We have yet the older son’s interpretation to consider, which he offers after
the father tries to reconcile this son to himself. He says, “You killed the
fatted calf for him!” This claim is the exact opposite of what the little boy has
just told the older son. It is also the opposite of the father’s own declared
purpose for the banquet. Noting that the older son contradicts the two previous
interpretations of the banquet, the listener must choose between them. Is the
banquet in honor of the Prodigal or in honor of the father? Is it a celebration
of the Prodigal’s successful efforts at reaching home (on his own), or is it
rather a celebration of the success of the father’s costly efforts at creating
shalom? Will the guests congratulate the Prodigal or the father?
It is my 40-year perception that generally modern readers of the parable do
not even discern these contrasts or observe that there is a choice to be made.
The banquet foreshadows [the Sacrament]. Surely we know that Jesus is the hero of
that sacred banquet and that sinners are not the center of attention.
The older brother’s self-righteousness becomes a pair of colored glasses through which he
sees the world. All he can understand is that the Prodigal lost the money and
that he has been reconciled to their father without having first returned the
money. In short, grace has been offered and accepted rather than the requirements
of law demanded and fulfilled by the sinner. The older son’s interpretation
represents the view of many, then and now.
But the father’s view of the banquet (supported by the young boy’s speech) is the mind of Jesus. For many, grace is not only amazing–it is also unbelievable! How could it be true? After all, you
get what you pay for, don’t you?