A few weeks ago, I taught a Bible class in which we discussed the story of the prodigal son. And something occurred to me that I had never really thought about before.
As parents, we hate the thought of our children treading the path that the prodigal son trod — the path of wasting money with wild living.
But — and here’s what occurred to me — we should hate just as much (if not more so) the thought of our children treading the path of the prodigal son’s older brother — the path of self-righteousness.
This guy thought he was so much better than his younger brother. He described himself as someone who had never disobeyed their father (Luke 15:29) while he contemptuously described his brother as someone who wasted their father’s wealth with prostitutes (Luke 15:30).
The context of the story of the prodigal son makes it clear that the prodigal son represents “the tax collectors and sinners” and the older brother represents “the Pharisees and scribes” (Luke 15:1-2).
This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus told a story that had to be with tax collectors and Pharisees.
Just a few chapters later, we find Jesus telling this story: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14 NASB).
By the way, the Bible says that Jesus told this particular story “to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9 NASB).
That description fits the prodigal son’s older brother exactly. He trusted in himself that he was righteous and he viewed his younger brother with contempt.
Remember, he described himself as someone who had never disobeyed their father (Luke 15:29) while he contemptuously described his brother as someone who wasted their father’s wealth with prostitutes (Luke 15:30).
Parents, please, by all means, teach your children not to take the path of the prodigal son — the path of wasting money with wild living.
But also teach them not to take the path of the older brother. Teach them not to view others with contempt. Teach them not to be self-righteous. Teach them humility.
In other words, and to sort of borrow some lyrics from a particular old country song: Mammas (and Daddies) don’t let your babies grow up to be Pharisees.
By Jake King
(Jake King is the preacher at Seneca Church of Christ. He can be reached at (417) 776-3077.)