Make sure to read verses 1,2 carefully - they are the key to this passage!
In each of the stories, something lost is found - and there is an invitation to rejoice. In the parable of the lost son there are really two lost sons. Both essentially wish their father dead so they can have his stuff. They don't want him.
But the father in the story is persistent. The story ends with uncertainty - the father "came out and entreated him" to join him in welcoming his brother back, to rejoice with him. And the story does not say whether the older brother does or not.
The story echoes what is happening at the moment: Jesus is welcoming back the lost, the "younger brother." The "older brothers", sure that they are the ones who deserve to inherit everything, stand back. Will they come in to the party? Will they respond to the invitation to "rejoice with me!"
Tim Keller has a great book out on this parable, called Prodigal God (as well as a sermon series available on Redeemer Presbyterian Church website.) It is one of the best explanations of the gospel I have ever read. Don't miss it - and get one to give away.
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