[Lk:15] Symptoms of the Self-Rightousness Virus
I’ve always identified with the story of the Prodigal Son, the younger brother, not because it was my story but because I’ve yearned for my own father’s embrace. But Reading the story again, a different view has comes to light. I’ve come to the understanding after reading the bible so much that the bible is not just a book, but a library of understanding and wisdom within each verse The only book that reads you, as you read it as they say. Anyway, as I read the parable again, the elder brother came to light.
When the younger brother finally returned from his ragged journey; the elder brother appears exactly where we expect him-out “in the field working” (luke 15:25). He’s dutiful, obedient, and respectable. He has always been that way, never straying, never leaving his post. He tried to be the good son. But looking beneath the respectable veneer, I identified with the good son. Lets just say the “good son” routine leaks with all the symptoms of what we’ll call the self-righteousness virus:
- Self-Centeredness. “You never gave me a party, “he whined to his father (Luke 15:29). “What about me? What about my party? Where’s the fatted cafe for me? Who cares about my brother; I want a party-a nice, warm, comfortable party-for just me and my friends. I don’t get it. He wasted his life and now you’re wasting the fatted cafe on him? How about a little attention for me?” Like the older son, I am often addicted to self-pity.
- Self-Deception. “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to” (verse 29). HOLD IT! Yes, he has worked like a dog, but he certainly hasn’t always obeyed. He’s defying his father right now! His father begs Him to join the celebration, serving as the assistant host, mingling with the guest, filling wine glasses, rejoicing with his father, and embracing his younger brother. But the good son stands outside and pouts. In the same way, self -righteousness blinds me from my own sins.
- Contemptuousness. Notice the the contempt and disgust towards his younger brother;” This son of yours [he can’t deal with the fact that it’s his brother] come back after squandering your money on prostitutes” (verse 30). Who said anything about prostitutes? It seems the elder son added that touching detail to make his younger brother seem worse. My spiritual “achievements” can slowly drain mercy out of my heart and filled me with contempt.
- Joylessness. In Luke 15 Jesus Piles on three stories that shimmer with God’s joy. By the end of the stories everyone parties, laughing until they hurt, raising and clinking glasses of wine, munching on hamburgers, dancing to the flute and the lyre-everyone, that is, except the good son. Like the good son, I’m in danger of becoming, what Mark Twain called, “a good man-in the worse sense of the word.”
Commenting on the elder brother, the German Theologian Helmut Thielicke wrote, “There are no festivals in this life, but only the tedious, tiresome, though highly serious monotony…There is a kind of obedience that has about it a mildewed, numbering lack of freshness and vitality that never makes a person really happy. There are plenty of ‘good people’ whose religion never makes them really warm and happy….There is no concealing the fact that sometimes God becomes boring to them.”
Self-righteousness was like a monstrous tapeworm in my spiritual life, consuming everything I put in my soul. As long as the worm is in my system, spiritually feeding-e.g, Bible study, worship, prayer, good works-merely feeds the worm of spiritual pride. Spiritual pride. Spiritual disciplines, rather then making me soft and tender like the waiting father, merely reinforced the condescending, joyless elder brother spirit. For God’s sake, for my own sake someone needed to name and dislocate my spiritual strutting and posing. Thank God He send someone.