Leave the Older Brother Alone

If you have spent any considerable amount of time in a church Sunday School class, you may have heard the Biblical parable of the “Prodigal Son”. This story is also called the “Lost Son” in some Bible versions (among other titles). If this narrative does not sound familiar, allow me to briefly summarize…A young man approaches his father and demands his inheritance so he can start “living his life” immediately. The father reluctantly agrees, and gives this boy the biggest payout of his life which leads to this young man living on impulse and squandering everything.

Scripture indicates that the wealth the boy was given was “liquid currency” meaning immediately spendable income. In ancient inheritance practice, this son would have also been entitled (unless the father deemed differently) to a certain portion of the family land. The older brother (there were only two sons in this family), in the case, would have been entitled to double the portion of inheritance that the youngest would have received. After spending all of the money and becoming homeless, the prodigal (meaning “one that squandered monetary resources”) returned home to a very warm and mercy-filled reception. The older brother was angry at this grace given to his sibling.

So, normally, we read this story and get a “warm-fuzzy” feeling when we realize the immense love shown to the young man who obviously did wrong. Then, we easily wag our finger at the older brother…acknowledging his lack of mercy. But wait… Let’s not condemn the older brother too quickly. It may be possible we are assuming something about him that isn’t true. If we are not careful in our reading, it could seem that the older brother was jealous and even competitive with his younger brother. This may not be the case. It could be that the older brother simply forgot his own status. He also could have forgotten what was rightfully his which in this circumstance amounted to exponentially more than the younger brother (due to the fact that land couldn’t be spent impulsively like money).

This older sibling was concerned with justice, and he had such a love for his family, that he found it to be a personal attack when his younger brother asked for “his portion” of the wealth. In those days, this was essentially telling your father that you are ready for him to die. This amount of disrespect was unmatched by any other action. Especially to a father that was only able to produce two sons in his adult life (which was an extremely low amount considering the assumed wealth and size of estate of this family). This older brother worked very hard because he knew that most of it was going to be his…or at least he would be the steward of it (assuming it could also stay in the family for the family). While this man looked at this action communally (what was best for the household), his father cared about the individual. Neither one was actually wrong according to ancient thought. This story just helps to remind us that there are times where we need to snap out of our cultural routine and focus on bringing the individual back into the fold.

Don’t be so quick to assign a villain to this story. The father knew that his son was more valuable than what temporary currency he spent. The older brother also knew that everyone would bear the burden of his sibling’s wrong choice. It was just simply taking him longer to process. We also learn by reading in between the lines that God’s grace is disproportionally generous to our transgressions.

In the end, the older brother needed to go on a learning journey too. Just like his brother.

Now, ultimately, this is a parable, but Jesus expertly uses it to instigate a thought process in His disciples. One that would lay the foundation for how the Kingdom would be structured.

-Landon DeCrastos

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We Misunderstand Bread

Most mornings, as a part of my daily routine, I enjoy a couple pieces of toast. I usually wait until I have taken the kids to school, and when I come back home, where there is no noise or distractions, I eat. The invention of the toaster is one I truly appreciate in my life. With that said, even though toasters make bread better, it can still become a very boring part of a meal. It’s quick and easy, though. I simply reach into the plastic bag and pull out 2 nearly identical slices without thinking about it very much.

If you are like me, you think of a bag of individual slices when you hear the word “bread”. In our culture, we know that a farmer grows wheat, grinds it up, and someone waves a magic wand and “POOF”…bread appears (I am pretty certain that is how it is made, but don’t fact-check me on it). We can reach into this same bag, take out a uniform slice each time, and have an identical experience again and again. To us, “bread” in very individualistic. We eat to satisfy our needs in the moment.

The fact is, in ancient times, this would not have been the experience of anyone eating bread. Sure, it was not completely uncommon for a shepherd to have a pouch with individual servings, but for the most part, bread was a community experience. Allow me to explain.

A person who did the cooking, would gather the ingredients needed (flour, oil, perhaps some spices, etc), and would knead the dough and would make sure to make multiple loaves (if they had the means) in one sitting. This way, the family would have plenty to last them for several meals, and even accommodate potential unexpected visitors. The head of the table, during the meal, would break the bread and distribute the pieces for people to enjoy as they wish. This distribution would symbolize, not only provision, but sacrifice and unity. If I am the head of the household or gathering, and I invite you to share my bread, I have found you worthy to partake of it. Someone in my family put their heart and soul into the bread, and pressed it to the right shape, and carefully monitored the stove to make sure it was baked to perfection. You see, in scripture especially, bread was not only about nutrients, but about sharing life.

There is even more to it, though. Look at two nations, or tribes who have been at odds. When reconciliation would occur between the two parties, a feast would occur and bread would be broken and distributed. It would be recognized that one of the parties did work to make the meal happen. Also, consider the fact that every family, tribe, nation, and region would have there own “take” on taste and texture. Spice combinations (or lack thereof) would vary, and every tasteful note that one would experience would identify the origin.

In the Bible, bread is used as a symbol to remind people of unity, provision, reconciliation, and so much more. Bread, to us, seems like a silly theme, but to ancient hearers of the word it was serious and profound. The example of the showbread in the Tabernacle not only symbolized the grace receivers (12 tribes of Israel), but there was also the implication of community that needed to be developed among them for their survival and ability to flourish. Bread, for them, was about obedience.

So, the next time, you sit down and eat, look at your dinner roll, or garlic toast with deep gratitude. God is trying to each us something.

The Planet

This poem is based on a bedtime story I told my children….
——

Let me introduce you to a planet
Made up of two races
One made of lava
The other with rocky bodies and faces

These two groups
Have a long standing fight
That has lasted for years
Each group believed they were right

No one really knew
How the ancient quarrel started
Just that one time they were unified
And now they were parted

Old Legends told
of a race long ago
A peaceful nation
Who had a glossy glow

Day after day
The two people groups would meet
On the battlefield to fight
Chanting “war” rhythmically to the beat

In the heat of battle
The two groups would clash
The matches would be quick
and would be done in a flash

One day a strange man
Came from over the hill
And met the two groups
Who both were ready to kill

This man seemed different
He had a smooth and rocky look
He shine was brilliant
Everyone’s attention he took

Somehow he stopped the commotion
The groups stopped to hear
He yelled “HALT!” at full blast
He gained everyone’s ear

This man had an idea
One that may do the trick
He knew it sounded crazy
But they had nothing else to pick

He told them to form two lines
Each facing the other team
Then told them to embrace
No matter how unnatural it seamed

With frowns and complaints
The first few locked arms
Then something amazing happened
That caused them no harm

Both groups transformed
And changed to something new
And looked like this strange man
Shiny like morning dew

This was the race
Of the stories from before
The peaceful obsidian race
They heard about in lore

Then immediately
All in attendance complied
Both groups came over
to the other groups side

Putting down their weapons
And finding common ground
Both sides were transformed
And enduring change was found

The moral of the story
If you cannot see
Is that sometimes acceptance
Can change you and me.