This is a classic parable that many Christian students learn in school, myself included. However, it always annoyed me. Clearly there was something wrong with me if I was disagreeing with Jesus. Then I realized that I just needed to think. I needed figure out what we meant.
So we know that there was a man who had two sons. The elder of the two was loyal and the younger one was...well, for lack of a better term, "misguided". The younger brother takes his inheritance early, spends it foolishly, and then crawls back to his father embarrassed and begging for forgiveness and mercy. The father welcomes him with open arms, throws a party and rejoices.
Okay, I understand that. Jesus is saying that the father is like our Father, the Lord, and the younger brother represents all of us here on Earth who sin. Even when we reach our lowest point, as long as we seek him and ask for forgiveness, He will not deny us. That makes sense. Here's where it got me...
The older brother is angry that his younger brother gets a party. He had worked hard for his father his entire life; never betraying him and doing what he was told. Yet he received not a single celebration for his labor and dedication. When he questions his father about it, his father replies that they must rejoice because his brother had been lost and then was found again.
Yes, it's great that the younger brother found his way back, but I agreed completely with the older brother. If I had been in his shoes, I would have been jealous. Unfortunately, jealousy is an ugly color on everyone. We are told as part of The Commandments not to covet what someone else has, which can be a difficult and seemingly impossible challenge at times. Looking at this parable from a narrow-minded, selfish perspective makes the brother's anger understandable. But there's a bigger picture.
The older brother was being pessimistic. His brother had finally returned home and he was worried about fairness. He should have been right next to his father rejoicing. But why wasn't he?
I think that the older brother represents those of us who believe that we are good people and have led faithful, Christian lives. None of us want to relate to the "bad" younger brother because most of don't view ourselves as "bad" people. We lead our lives in the good,holy manner that we do because it is what we believe and what we know is best, yet we don't want our efforts to go unrecognized. The brother felt the same way. This makes him more realistic as a character. However, that doesn't make him right.
Jealousy brought out the ugly side of this older brother because he was competing with his younger brother. He was keeping track of all of the good that he had done throughout the years and then turned around and his younger brother was celebrating because he had "won". His brother had cheated. He didn't deserve the feast and the fattened calf. Why should he be rewarded?
Well you see, the older brother will be rewarded...just in a different way. I believe that his reward comes in the Kingdom of Heaven; which, let's be honest, is greater than any fat cow and a party.
Jesus was describing two types of people:
1. Basically good people who trip every now and again
2. People who have completely lost their way
These situations have a common ground: none of us are perfect. The only unblemished character in this parable is the father, and since the father represents the Lord, he can get away with being perfect. Though known of us here on Earth can avoid sin, this parable offers us hope. It's okay to stumble as long as you get back up, admit to your mistakes, and ask for forgiveness. God wants to be there to hug us when we return to Him.
So whether we are younger or older, we are all brothers (and sisters) and children of God. He is our savior, and He will rejoice for us when we are found again and again.