In this parable from Luke 15, there are three characters: a father, an older son, and a younger son. The younger son is wild at heart and asks his father to give him his part of the family inheritance now, while the father is still alive. He does not want to wait for his father to die to get his money. He shows that he is immature and does not love his father.
The father, though, loves his son so much, that he agrees to his demands. This is a big deal because in these ancient times, people didn’t have cash hanging around the house or in the bank. In order to give his younger son the inheritance, the father would have had to sell off land, livestock, etc., thereby putting the rest of the family in jeopardy because the rest of the family still had to live.
The younger son goes off, spends the money on wild living, strong drink and women, and winds up with nothing left. He is forced to get a job as a swineherd, which is despicable to the Jews because pigs were considered unclean. The younger son realizes that his father’s servants are better off than he is, so he decides to go back to his father and ask to be treated as a servant.
However, when the father sees him in the distance, he picks up his robe and runs to meet the younger son, again showing incredible love, because this act would not be considered something a family patriarch would do. The father embraces the younger son and orders the fatted calf to be killed for a huge celebration.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the older son is seething. He tells his father that he is angry because he stayed working for the father all his life, and he is the one that deserves to be treated well, not the younger good-for-nothing brother. The father has great love for the older son as well, though, and tells him “all I have is yours” because you are always with me. The older son does not show much love towards his father and no love towards his brother.
The father in the parable is God. The two sons represent two types of men: the older son represents those people who are legalistic and think they can earn God’s love by obeying rules. The younger son represents those people that think they can live any way they want because God shows grace and love to us and will forgive us “70 times 7.” Both sons are alienated from God in different ways. But both sons are loved by God, who loves us unconditionally. The father's love, as God's love, is the same at the beginning and end of the parable. God's love is constant. What good news!