Sometimes (often probably) we have preconceived ideas that influence how we interpret scripture. This seems to be the case a lot when people read about the Prodigal Son; the younger son is seen as a Christian and the older son as a Pharisee. But that's not the case at all and I think some important truths have been stolen from us. The story is about a father who has two sons. It is about family, and most people seem to miss this. So I'm going to go through this scripture and share some thoughts as we go.
11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
It would have been inappropriate for the Father to give the younger son his inheritance without doing the same for the older son. So he went ahead and divided his property between them both. Both of them could have stayed or left with all they had. The younger son left, the older son stayed and left all he had under his Father's authority.
13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
There was no question in the Father's mind that the younger son was still his son and should be honored as his son. It was not a question of what he was worthy of. It was a matter of fact and declaration. Nothing had changed between the Father and his son and the Father wanted to make sure his son, and everyone else, knew that.
25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
Remember at the beginning of this story the Father divided all he had between his sons. The older son could have killed a young goat if he had wanted to. His anger and resentment was based on his Father's actions. His Father had never given him a young goat. His Father had never celebrated, so to speak, the older son's service. Underneath this anger was, I believe, a feeling that his Father did not really love him.
31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
The first thing the Father spoke to in the older son was to reassure him that he did love him and they were still close; and it is important to understand that they had been close. The Father wanted the older son to realize that nothing had changed between them. He also reassured him that everything under his authority was still under the older son's authority. Giving the younger son the best robe and a ring did not mean the older son was going to lose anything he had left in his Father's care.