This familiar parable told by Jesus can only be found in Luke. It is often called “the return of the lost son” or “the forgiving father.” It is basically a story involving a father and his two sons or an emotional triangle. The reader can easily identify with any of the three characters. The mother is not an active participant in this story.
From the younger son’s perspective, he asked his father for his share of his father’s property. Somewhat surprisingly the father divides the property and gives one half to each son. The younger son sells his portion and leaves home. He spends all of his money and has to work for gentiles. A famine occurs and he is actually caring for swine, which is forbidden food for Jews. He realizes the reality of his situation and concludes that he would have a better life working for his father than living among swine and remaining hungry. Thus, he finds his way home and is greeted by his father with a major celebration.
From the older son’s perspective he hears that his younger brother has come home and his father has greeted him with his robe and will kill the prize calf for a celebration meal. The older son accuses his brother of spending money on prostitutes and he is jealous that he is getting no special treatment for being the obedient and loyal son.
The father is forgiving and accepting because his son who was lost is now found. This parable follows two other parables regarding the lost sheep and the lost coin. Thus, Jesus is emphasizing the joy related to one sinner being forgiven and found or converted. The forgiveness of God is there for all of us. We are not perfect and should not forget that God will forgive each of us also.