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Department: What's Vital?

A Long Way Off

Wilson, Jan

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Journal of Christian Nursing: April/June 2020 - Volume 37 - Issue 2 - p 78
doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000701
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But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20, ESV).

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31, ESV).

When the most despised members of Jewish society drew near to hear Jesus, the religiously correct grumbled. In response, Jesus told three parables to illustrate the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. Read Luke 15:11-32. The story we often call the parable of the prodigal son highlights the mercy a father showed toward his unworthy son. If our tendency is to focus on the younger son's desperate physical condition and subsequent repentance, we can overlook the profound poverty lying in the heart of his older brother.

In contrast to the father's joy when his younger son returns, the older son is enraged and refuses to join the celebration. His father begs him to come in and this son responds, “These many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command” (Luke 15:29, ESV). Then he compares his obedient service to his father with that of his brother, saying, “This son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes” (Luke 15:30, ESV).

In addition, he criticizes the way his father has treated his brother by killing the fattened calf, compared with the way he perceives the treatment he himself has received: “You never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (Luke 15:29, ESV). No wonder he felt angry! He thought if anyone deserved a party, it was him, not his wayward brother!

As nurses, are we so different from this older brother? How often do we diligently perform our duties yet see our colleagues receive recognition and compensation for their work? When this happens, do we celebrate with them or stand aloof while inwardly grumbling?

Anger was not the only effect of comparison on this older son. His feelings of entitlement clouded his understanding. He interpreted the mercy his father showered on his brother as a threat to the reward he thought should be his. He complained that his father had withheld good from him. This sense of deprivation robbed him of gratitude, leaving him unable to appreciate the treasure of the relationship with his father. It prevented him from enjoying the access to everything that his father had. But instead of rebuking his elder son's ungrateful heart, the father expresses his love for him this way: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31, ESV).

What a difference perception makes! In this parable, the reckless one had squandered his inheritance but eventually he came to his senses. From his pigpen perspective, he saw his father's wealth as vast enough to benefit even the hired servants. His repentance resulted in restoration. As for his older brother, we are left to wonder if his father's affirmation dissolved his jealousy, and we never learn if it dispelled his anger.


  • How does what we believe we deserve affect our attitude when setbacks or delays come? How does our perception affect our reactions to the success of others?
  • Sometimes we respond with feelings of envy when we learn of another's good fortune. Envy may spring from the misconception that God has a finite amount of blessings and when another receives a blessing, it reduces the blessings available to us. What does your reaction to another's advancement reveal about your perception of God and his willingness to bless you? How can meditating on Psalm 84:11 alleviate the sense of deprivation we sometimes experience?
  • Just as ingratitude clouded the older brother's ability to appreciate the father's love, our own ingratitude can prevent our appreciation of the blessings that surround us. What good gifts might you have neglected in your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues?
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship