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When Grace Becomes the Enemy: A Tale of Rage, Love, and Redemption

By Malcolm Smith

The Pharisees ordered life around the concept of reward and punishment. So the part of the story about the feast for the younger brother — who was immoral, unholy, and unrighteous — left them choking with rage that these vile tax collectors should be received and celebrated with a covenant meal. 


Jesus’ parable deals directly with their self-righteous rage in the story of the elder brother… 


The elder brother returns from a day lording over laborers. Coming across the fields in the late afternoon, distant sounds of celebration reach his ear. The smell of roast beef is in the air. Uneasy, he quickens his pace. This must be a big party. It sounds as if the entire village is involved. What is the cause of this celebration, dancing, and joy? Who sanctioned this? Nothing happens here without my approval. He walks faster. 


As he approaches the ranch, he sees one of his servants. Angrily, he accosts him as if to beat information out of him. The servant cowers before his authority, saying, “Your brother is home. Your father has received him in shalom and killed the fatted calf and welcomed him home.”


Suddenly, it was as if the sky had fallen in on the elder brother. The structure of his world of reward and punishment was quickly unraveling, and his face reflected his inner turmoil of confusion and rage. 


The system of reward and punishment ordered his entire life, so he saw himself as his father's servant. In reality, he was more like a slave! He lived his life to be the ‘servant of the month,’ strictly obeying every command of the father. He worked for his father in drudgery, and his opinion of his father was informed by his twisted belief while never really knowing him.


This philosophy of life left him in control of his father's acceptance. He could do what he believed pleased the father, knowing the right buttons to press, but at times, the nagging feeling that he had not done enough, that there was something his father wanted that he had not yet done, plagued his mind. There was never an acclamation from the father concerning his work, never a feast of even a goat—let alone a fatted calf!


The thoughts of the fatted calf being prepared for the younger brother only added fuel to the anger that filled his heart regarding his brother. The younger brother was his constant mirror —Thank God I am not and would never be like him… I never left the ranch to squander my father's money on prostitutes and shameless living. He was better than that, and therefore, he must be recognized and rewarded, and a vital part of his reward was in the younger brother being punished! The elder brother could not enjoy heaven until his younger brother was in hell. Yet now, his father had received in shalom, escorted in dignity, and celebrated the younger brother with a feast in his honor. 


The news of the younger brother being honored and rewarded and his father's opinion on public display sent him into a rage. His world was being dismantled; he had been overlooked, not even informed of the feast! He felt humiliated—he was the faithful son who should be honored and celebrated at the father's right hand in front of the entire village. He is plunged into chaos! He is out of control of his life! He is in free fall!! His whole belief system is crumbling beneath him as he realizes that no one recognizes his rules for acceptance—oh, the world has gone insane! Grace has dismantled his world and is perceived as a hostile enemy to his way of life and all he has understood and believed.


He runs, stumbling towards the ranch, blinded by tears of rage, thoughts of accusation toward his father flooding his mind: how could you… and without discussing it with me… you never did this for me… what have I done that you never noticed me or rewarded me… you rewarded this one who should have been punished. Father has gone mad… he has publicly rejected me and him!


So, in a blind rage, he goes to convert his father. 


The sound of the village-wide joy of music and singing disgusts and further enrages him. He knows the customs and what was expected of him as the elder brother. A feast meant he took his father's place as host in welcoming and serving the guests, allowing his father to enjoy time with the honored guest sitting at the head of the table. He would be the one responsible for holding the feast together, caring for the guests, and watching over the kitchen and waiters. And he would especially watch over the head table to be sure the guest of honor was abundantly served and well cared for—in this case, his younger brother! To refuse this duty would be the greatest of insults to the father. It would be a disassociation with the father, a public slap in the face. The father would be shamed in front of all the guests, and as the news spread, he would also be shamed before the entire village. It would be the talk of decades to come.


But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore, his father came out and pleaded with him. Luke 15:28 (NKJV)

The feast is already in progress as he approaches. In his wrath, he does not care if he shames his father. He would never serve his younger brother. He will not go into the feast. Did he even belong to this family? They have all gone insane! No! The younger brother certainly is not his brother; the father is not the father he thought he knew.

One conclusive thought fills his heart: I am divorced from this family!


And so he stays on the porch where the servants wait to be given orders—in the dark. One of the servants opens the door for him, but he refuses to go in. 


Inside the feast, the scuffle at the door is noticed, and the loud voice of the elder brother refusing to go in is heard. A message is taken to the father. There is an uncomfortable silence as the guests wait for what is inevitable—the son's arrest. They knew what was about to happen. A servant would be called by the father and sent to arrest the son now designated the foolish son of Proverbs. He would be taken to a secure room on the property, a jail, to be held for punishment before city elders—beating and possible banishment from the house. When this was done, the party would resume, and the father's honor would be regained. 


But no servant was called to arrest him. The silence turned to shocked murmurs and embarrassed glances as the father got up and followed the servant outside in the darkness to join his furious son, into the energy of bitter rage, to speak gentle words of comfort to his son. He went where his son was, not summoning him to a place of the father's choice. The guests were horrified—the father's shame was complete. 


At the sight of the father, the elder brother explodes with rage, and all of his feelings of being left out, rejected, and the unjust honor of the unworthy younger brother come spewing out. There had never been a feast for him. However, his idea of a feast was not to celebrate love or relationship but to receive public praise and be applauded. He did not want to celebrate with his father but with his friends. The father says nothing but lets him exhaust himself. He does not protect himself from the verbal beating that continues to shame him in front of the servants. There is no show of strength on the father's part; he doesn’t call for his servant's help, who is waiting for his call to arrest the elder brother. He does not answer rage for rage or threaten the son, nor does he shame or condemn him. There is no attempt to win the argument. He implores the elder brother, coming alongside pleading with him. He appears weak and out of control of the situation—all the respect of the village is lost. 


And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.’ Luke 15:31 (NKJV)


He accepts the rage!! This is the father in the hands of the angry son. He becomes one with the elder brother's shame and guilt. He could have said, “Get out, off this property, out of this family! I hate your pitiful slave mind. You have never known me. I do not like you, you self-righteous arrogant bully!” Instead, the father answers with words of light directed to pierce the armor of darkness in the brain of his eldest son. The father says, “My dear little boy! I am always with you. All that I have is yours. It is necessary that we make merry, be glad. For your brother was lost and is found, was dead and is alive.”


Can you hear the Father's joy in Jesus through the Spirit? He has made your sin His own and carried it to death and resurrection. His laugh is at your forgiveness and restoration to the position you were created for—all His sons sitting at His table. When we step inside His embrace of love and accept His acceptance, a rainbow of behaviors springs into being. Then, we assume our identity and unlock prison doors.


The parable story has no end. What will the elder brother do? Jesus trails off the story, not finishing it with an ending. Was it possible that Saul was one of the Pharisees listening to Jesus, the Master storyteller, tell the elder brother's story that day? Did Jesus turn and lock eyes with Saul as He left the story without an end?


Did Love’s eyes pierce Saul's heart with the question: What will you do with this revelation of the life and love of the Father? It is necessary that you join the celebration!


Malcolm Smith was born in London, England, immediately before World War II. he came to a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus in his early teens. He experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit that changed His life forever. From the very beginning of his life in Christ, he was ‘arrested’ by 1 John 4, “God is Love.” He not only has love—but IS LOVE! The Holy Spirit fueled a passion for knowing HIS love in its fullness, and Malcolm has pursued that desire for the past 70-plus years.

He presently lives in Bandera, TX., with his wife, Cheryl. He has hundreds of hours of teaching on CD and MP3 and hundreds of video hours on YouTube at Malcolm Smith webinars. He has authored several books, including The Power of the Blood Covenant and This Son of Mine, Expanded Edition. For further information, go to


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