It probably seems obvious to believers today that the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son points to our heavenly Father. The freedom of choice the father had offered his son (Luke 15:12), the longing he had for his son’s return (Luke 15:20) and the great joy, which he expressed when his son’s return was realized (Luke 15:22-23), all point to how our heavenly Father treats us. Nevertheless, aside from the sinner who wandered away or who accidentally became lost or even the one who made deliberate choices to separate himself from God, what about the ignorant sinner who really believes he has served God all his life? What can be said of him and his return to God?
When the elder brother heard that his brother had returned and that their father was actually celebrating this fact, he refused to take part in that celebration (Luke 15:25-28a). This attitude toward the return of his younger brother reflects what was actually taking place in the persons of the Pharisees and rabbis of Jesus’ day (Luke 15:2). Our heavenly Father, as depicted in the parable in the father’s attitude toward his eldest son, went out to him. That is, in the person of Jesus God addressed the Pharisees’ and lawyers’ attitudes in refusing to take joy in the return of their sinful brethren (Luke 15:2).
The elder brother’s complaint with his father was that he seemed to love his rebellious son more than him, who had stayed with him and served his father all his life. He accused his father of never giving him even a young goat to celebrate with his friends. Yet, for his rebellious brother, his father killed the fatted calf to celebrate his return. Where’s the justice in this? Where’s the fair play? His father replied that he knows that he had never left him, and all the father owns belongs to him, his son (cf. Luke 15:12). Nevertheless, it was fitting to celebrate the return of his destitute brother. It’s not a matter of what the young man had done or how the elder perceives how he’s been treated (Luke 15:31-32). It is a matter of mercy, forgiveness and love.
It seems the elder son (viz. the Pharisees and the lawyers of Luke 15:2), looked upon his father as a strict task master. his service veiled his eyes, so he didn’t see his father’s love for him. Rather, all he saw was a taskmaster who had to be served. It is clear in Luke 15:29 that the elder son simply didn’t see his father’s love for him. He couldn’t believe that all that his father had was his to spend as he wished (cf. Luke 15:12, 31).
Sadly, the current situation that existed between Jesus and the Jewish authorities kept escalating to the point where they simply refused to respond to God. They couldn’t bring themselves to take joy in what their heavenly father found so much pleasure (Luke 15:7, 10, 23-24; cf. 15:2). Their disbelief in what Jesus said kept them from taking part in the banquet our heavenly Father had prepared (Luke 15:28; cf. Luke 14:17-21).