13. The father’s response. For a fourth time, the father goes beyond what a traditional patriarch would do. For the second time in the same day, he is willing to offer a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Only this time it is to a lawkeeper rather than a lawbreaker. Amazing grace holds true for both sons.
Culturally, the father is expected to proceed with the banquet and ignore the public insult. He can deal with the older son later. But no! In painful public humiliation, the father goes down and out to find yet one more lost sheep/coin/son.
14. The older son’s response. The younger son “accepted” to be found. He was overwhelmed by the costly love freely offered to him. The older son, in contrast, seems unimpressed. Instead, he mercilessly attacks both his father and his brother in public. The father is expected finally to explode and order a thrashing for the public insults. For a fifth time, patriarchy is transcended.
This is not a remarkable father. Rather it is a symbol for God. As Henri Nouwen has written regarding this parable, “This is the portrayal of God, whose goodness, love, forgiveness, care, joy and compassion have no limits at all. Jesus presents God’s generosity by using all the imagery that his culture provides, while constantly transforming it” (The Return of the Prodigal). If the older son accepts the love now offered to him, he will be obliged to treat the Prodigal with the same loving acceptance with which the father welcomed the pig herder. The older son will need to be “conformed to the image” of that compassionate father who comes to both kinds of sinners in the form of a suffering servant, offering undeserved, costly love. Is he willing? We are not told. By this point the audience is on the stage and must decide for itself.
[I hope this was as insightful for you as it was for me.]