11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Now, here's a few things to know. The impetuous, rebellious younger son asks for his inheritance, saying to his father, "I wish you were dead. Give me what would come to me if you were." Off he goes to blow it all in a foreign land, hit rock bottom during a famine, jealous of the pods pigs eat (which in Jewish tradition is likely what makes pigs unclean animals) as he works as migrant labor, underpaid to the point of starvation, and then shamefully decides to return home to live as his father's servant to at least not starve to death.
The older son does his father grievous injury as well, refusing to come inside and join the party. He speaks to his father in such a way as to at least be beaten for his transgressions.
In both cases, the loving father seeks out his lost children (and both truly are lost, the one to rebellion, the other to sour judgmentalism that pushes joy out of his life). As soon as his wandering son comes into view the father throws his own dignity out the window and runs out to embrace the haggard, humiliated, embarrassed, wretch and cuts off his mumbled apology. He calls for the best robe (which would be his own), a ring, and sandals (which return a member to the family, no servant wore them). He calls for a feast, for music, for dancing.
No doubt the town sneered at the merciful father. This was no way for a patriarch to behave. No patriarch raised his robe and ran. He should have sent word to have his lost child brought to him, heard his petition, and rendered a verdict. That was what society demanded. He couldn't care less. Going further, he then had the fatted calf served up, which would feed 200 people, and in the days before great preservation techniques, would have to be eaten quickly by all. The sneering neighbors got to come and celebrate.
In the revelry, the father then seeks out the older sibling (and sibling rivalry is so clearly displayed in this short scene). He encourages this stubborn son, despite what he has to say, to come into the light, the music, the feast, and share in the joy of the lost son returned to the life of the family.
Here are the challenges: if the father, who represents God, is so willing to forgive all transgressions so willingly: 1) can you forgive yourself when you have been forgiven; 2) can you throw aside the desire to judge others and instead lift them up, knowing that God is eager to do so; and 3) in an age of mistrust and division, will you offer love and forgiveness across divides as God does? Are you willing to come to the party when in all likelihood there will be people there you never thought could get in? It's worth strong consideration.
If you are curious who this parable was delivered to, see Luke 15:1-3. Ask yourself who represents the younger rebellious son and who represents the older legalistic child.