I have to confess that some days, it feels like the older brother gets a bad rap.
All older siblings (like myself) know the inherent "unfairness" associated with being our parents' guinea pig. They get to learn on us ... and mess up on us ... and get a do-over with our younger siblings. In our fallen human nature, it's hard to watch as our siblings have it "easier" than we do. (Of course, sometimes that very "ease" leads to its own problems, since God has created us in such a way that difficulties become part of what shapes us.)
I don't know about you, but I can go for weeks in my normal routine, my typical "responsible" mode, and then come up against one of those days ...
...when somebody drops the ball and it lands in my lap
...when I am "unfairly" judged for something others do all the time
...when it feels like I alone am indispensable
...when everyone else says "no", and my inner sense of responsibility pushes a reluctant "yes" out of my lips
Suddenly on those days I realize, as the words of a song I couldn't find said, "Some days I'm the prodigal/some days I'm the older brother." On my "older brother" days I realize I have more in common with the Pharisees, to whom Jesus was directing this parable and who the older brother represents, than I really want to admit. I find myself seeing the logic of the earlier workers in Jesus' parable of the vineyard workers - of course they should get paid more, having worked hard all day and not just a couple of hours!
And then the truth hits me like a ton of bricks: I realize I am nullifying the grace of God, not living by faith but living in my own sense of right and wrong, my own strength, my own righteousness. As much as I hate to admit it, there is still some Pharisee in me to be purged out. It might not come out in the form of legalism like we see in the Gospels, but it does rear its ugly head in the form of "older brother syndrome". "I'm the responsible one, I deserve better" is just a subtle form of spiritual pride.
Ouch! Talk about conviction! Oh, but the wonderful news, as a speaker at a conference once said, is that when we realize something is sin, we know what to do with it! Turn to Jesus in repentance, and allow His love to fill me to the point that I give of myself to others out of love instead of duty. Then walk in a lifestyle of repentance by resisting all forms of that spiritual pride that is characterized by impatience with others who are in a different place than me, by nitpicking small errors, by always having to know or be able to find the answer, by feeling that I am indispensable. Walk in grace, remembering that I could have all knowledge, but without love, I am nothing.