The parable of the two sons is meant to be a lesson to the Pharisees and Scribes, who are represented in the parable by the elder son. Because Jesus spends most of the parable speaking of the younger son, we may be tempted to focus on his story of reconciliation with the father. I invite you listen to the words of the father to the elder son in isolation; ignore the younger son for a moment and listen to how beautifully the father speaks to his son.
“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours...now we must celebrate and rejoice…your brother…has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
Taken on their own, these are words of great joy, warmth, and intimacy. The father shares everything with the son and wishes the son to love his brother and rejoice in his brother’s return to life with them. It is only the elder son’s bitterness and envy that destroys this joy. Both sons desired to revel in the good things of this world; the elder brother chose to work instead of indulging in sins of excess, and he blames the father for not letting him feast and carouse. In reality, both sons were tempted by the same sins; one indulged, and the other refrained from those sins but indulged just as deeply in sins of pride, envy, and hatred toward his brother and father. The grand irony is that the bitterness of the elder brother bars him from participating in the very celebrations that he yearned for! It seems that the elder brother wanted to party, but not if that celebration included his father or brother. His hard work was born of pride, not of love for the father; he did the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, and could not bear to celebrate someone other than himself.
The lesson for us, or at least for the pharisaical part of our hearts, is to rejoice with the Father and the Son. If we want to enjoy the banquet feast of Heaven, then we must learn to love the things that God loves and celebrate His mercy, forgiveness, and compassion for those who have been dead and have come to life again. Let us put aside all bitterness, all envy, all hatred of others as well as the unworthy desires toward sin that give birth to such darkness in our hearts. May we not envy sinners for their sins but rejoice in each and every soul that turns back to God. For if we choose to accept it with humility and mercy, everything God has will be ours, and we will be with Him always.