What if the Prodigal Son Met the Older Brother First?

prodigal son returns embraced by the father Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Spanish, 1617 - 1682 ), The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670, oil on canvas

Alternative Title for This Post: How We Christians Can Stop Being Jerks and Start Loving on Sinners

Four years ago, I worked as a FOCUS missionary at Texas State University in San Marcos. As a missionary, part of my job was to mentor students on how to pray, how to live out the Gospel and how to share the Gospel with their peers.

One day Sarah (one of my students) and I decided to “get creative”. We took toy dinosaurs and acted out the gospel message for anyone who would listen. Weird, right? God works in mysterious ways, I guess.

As we walked on campus, another student in our program yelled at us from across the quad, “ What are you doing?” “Dinosaur gospel presentations, Duh!” we replied. “Do you know anyone who wants to hear about the gospel with these dinos?”

“Um, I would be interested.”

Sarah and I turned around to see a young man, nerdy, sitting on the giant bobcat (the school’s mascot). We walked over in good faith and used our dinosaurs to act out the Gospel (God made man, man sinned, we can’t get back to God, so he came down to us in His Son Jesus who is now our salvation) laughing all the way through.

The young man spoke with us for a while, asking question after question. We did our best to answer, and then he broke my heart:

He told us that he had been searching and that he had gone to the Catholic center the prior year looking for answers. No one would indulge him, so he left and never went back.

We talked for a while, and we got his number to invite him to stuff, but as we walked away, Sarah and I were bothered that he had come home looking for a welcome and found none. I told my missionary teammate the story that night and he responded:

“When the prodigal son comes home and meets the older brother before meeting the father, he leaves because he is not welcome.”


Dear church, we live in a prodigal world, many are begging to come back simply to be servants when the Father wants to make them sons. When we welcome them with coldness or with no welcome at all, we are blocking them from the love of the Father. We need to make sure that people are running into the father, not the older brother.

Here is how you can make the father known:

  1. Understand that both brothers in this story rejected the Father, one of his passions and the other of his own righteousness. All sin is a rejection of God, we are not better or worse than anyone else. We need a savior!
  2. Love and mercy are fruits of gratitude. If we are going to be love and mercy to the world, we need to pray in thanksgiving for God’s mercy in our own lives and we need to pray for chance encounters led by the Holy Spirit. He will orchestrate them!
  3. Transformation happens because of an encounter. We won’t change anything with a book or a program. Those are great tools but they are useless if we don’t encounter others. We must go out to individuals dressed in joy heralding a message that they are LOVED by their creator.

We as believers are called to embrace the sin of this world in the persona of the God who desires so much to save it. It may be uncomfortable, it may be awkward, but for the sake of every soul, it is worth it.

The painting used for the article image is Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Return of the Prodigal Son, the last of a series of six paintings inspired by the Parable of the Prodigal Son / The Prodigal and His Brother / The Loving Father. Click below to check out the whole series:

Read Mallory’s longer account of this story on Medium.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother Luke 15:11-32 RSVCE | On-Page Popup
The Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother Luke 15:11-32 RSVCE | Bible Gateway
What if the Prodigal Son Met the Older Brother First? | Medium
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo | Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Return of the Prodigal Son