I have always understood the Prodigal Son. I have heard many different teachings on it and have agreed with most of them. It is one of the most vivid parables that Jesus told. At least it is very vivid to me....
We all know the story. A young man, ready to face the world and all that is in it, demanded to receive his inheritance from his father. Although his father did not wish to see his son go away, he gave him what he wanted. His brother stayed behind, working in the business with his father.
When the young man went out into the world, he made many friends for he had a significant amount of wealth that his father had bestowed upon him. Day after day and night after night he would squander his money on not only himself but on all those who befriended him.
Then one day a famine came upon the land. The young man soon ran out of money and all the friends who were so close to him had now disappeared. He had been used. He was forced to take a job as a keeper of pigs. This part of the parable is especially significant because to the children of Israel a job as a pig keeper is one of the lowest jobs as the pig is defiled according to the law of God.
When the young man caught himself thinking that he perhaps should eat the food that the pigs were eating, he realized what state he was in and decided to go back to his father and beg him for mercy. He would become a servant if his father would have him.
His father saw him a far off for he had searched for him on the horizon countless times and welcomed him with open arms not even wanting to hear his suggestion of becoming a servant. He rejoiced greatly and ordered the fatted calf to be sacrificed in his son's honor for he was lost but was then found.
This is the part that seems to always to draw my attention:
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. Luke15 KJV
I have heard a few teachings about the older son not understanding and perhaps not having mercy in his heart. But if the prodigal son represented man, then who did the other more faithful, uncomplaining son represent? If man has an inheritance with God which he spent, then who is the other son who stayed with God the Father and did not demand his inheritance?
Man through sin squandered the gift which God gave unto them. Yet God through His mercy forgives and still gives us a place in his household....but is it not both His household and His other sons? For if all the man owned was divided in two then the other son's inheritance was in the care of the father. That fatted calf was part of the other son's inheritance. Yet how could this other son who seemed so angry and unmerciful be a type of Christ? Well I am reminded of this -
Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. Matthew 15
Although it seemed that Jesus would not grant or approve of the mercy which she plead for, He did heal her. She acknowledged the fact that she did not deserve His mercy just as the prodigal son acknowledged that fact to his father.
This fatted calf which was killed for the Prodigal Son was something which he did not deserve. We do not deserve the sacrifice which Christ made for us. It is the same. The fatted calf is Jesus' death. Something which his brother owned was given up for the Prodigal. Something which belonged to Christ was given up for us. I see Jesus in that older brother. The kingdom of heaven is His. He sits on the throne. It is His inheritance as His Father gave it to Him. He allows us to share His inheritance and did not the Prodigal Son's brother do the same? Was not the Prodigal Son now living upon the rest of his father's worldly goods which belonged to his brother? The Father shows mercy to the Prodigal and asks the Son to show mercy too. They never say what the son answered his father at the last but it does say that he was obedient and faithful and so it is my conclusion that he accepted and approved his father's explanation. Just as Christ agrees with the Father in our salvation.
People say thank God that we have a Father who shows mercy like that and I say yes and thank God we have a Brother who does so as well!