The Defense of the Unprodigal Brother
For too long I have remained silent. I’ve bit my tongue while people—preachers in particular—have drug my name through the mud, using me as a don’t-be-like-him example. A man can take only so much. And I’ve taken more than my fill. It’s time to speak, to defend my honor, to present my case. I am Jonah, the unnamed “older brother” in that embarrassing tale that the rabbi from Nazareth told. And since you’ve heard his side of the story, now hear mine.
When my kid brother approached our dad to demand his share of the estate, I was stunned. You just don’t do that in our culture. It’s like saying to your father, “I wish you were dead so the will could be read and I’d get my money.” What kind of son does that? I’ll tell you: one who doesn’t deserve to be in the family, who has no inkling how good he has it, who is not to be trusted. That’s who. And as if that weren’t shocking enough, our dad went and handed it over. It was like this son and his wishes were more important than our family’s financial well-being, not to mention our reputation. Didn’t they care what people would think? But what was done, was done. He asked the unthinkable, dad conceded, and he packed his bags and left. He may have been born my brother, but, in my book, a brother who does that is no brother. To me he’s dead. He’s no better than a pagan.
After he left, rumors began to circulate about a whole host of scandalous things he’d done while he was still living under our roof. And given the way he treated our father, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them were true. A son doesn’t become unfaithful overnight; there had to have been a prehistory to his sin. But what disgusts me the most are the stories that drifted back to us after he left for parts unknown. He took our father’s hard-earned cash, our family’s money, and used it to satisfy his sexual appetite. He was probably a VIP customer in every whorehouse in the land. I may have no hard and fast evidence, but when you hear as many stories as I have, they can’t all be false. You may call him a “prodigal son” but I call him a “promiscuous brother”, for that’s what he was.
While he was out whoring, I was at home working. And there was plenty of work to do, especially since I had not only my own chores to do, but now his as well. Somebody had to pick up the slack. At the risk of sounding boastful, I think I did a good job—some might say exemplary. What my father told me to do, I did, no questions asked. His word was my law. Indeed, after my brother deserted us, I tried even harder to be faithful and obedient, to make up for his wrongdoing.
I was doing that very thing on the day when, walking in from the field, I heard the sound of music and dancing drifting from the house. When a servant told me that they were celebrating my brother’s return, shock thundered through me, followed by a disgust I could almost taste. There was no way in hell I would join in that ungodly celebration. What was there to celebrate? A faithless son? A destroyer of our family? A sexual predator? At the very least, he ought to have been taken back in quietly and made to do the work of the lowest slave if, and until, he had earned our trust. He needed to be taught a lesson. He needed to earn his way back into our family’s good graces. He didn’t need a forgiving father but a scrutinizing judge. Otherwise, who’s to say that history wouldn’t repeat itself and, once again, he’d break the cohesion and soil the good name of our family.
The whole debacle reeks of injustice. Quite frankly, there are some sins that require stricter punishment, even within a family. It wasn’t as if he forgot to do his chores one night, or even back-talked our father. Remember, he wanted him dead. He walked out on our family. He wasted his wealth on womanizing. I refuse to celebrate such a man, even if he is my brother. As God as my witness, I have too much respect for the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” to turn a blind eye to such damnable iniquity.
If there’s going to be a celebration, why not celebrate fidelity, obedience, hard work? Where is the party for men who exemplify those qualities? I, and others like me, labor all day in the fields. We break our backs for this family. We walk together, side by side, in concord. We do what our father tells us to do. Is it too much to ask that we have a little party of our own, that our achievements are congratulated? But, no, while we go overlooked and under-rewarded, the party rages for the pagan, the “dead son” who came back to life. If you ask me, if he wants his life back, hand him a hoe and shovel and tell him to work for it.
People may call me what they may—hypocrite, Pharisee, holier-than-thou—but try, if you will, to look at this story from my perspective. He strayed, I stayed. He whored, I worked. He disobeyed, I obeyed. He dishonored his father, I was a true son.
Whatever may come of this, I’ve resolved one thing for certain: I will not be the kind of father that my father has been. There must be boundaries, even to paternal love. If my own son betrays me as my brother has our father, there will be consequences, and they will be severe. For in the end, it only through discipline and appropriate punishment that sons learn respect and obedience. If love and forgiveness are so easily obtained, what kind of world will this become?