The story begins by introducing the audience to a father who had two sons (Luke 15:11). Immediately after the introduction, the narrator takes the reader on the journey of the younger son, his return to the father, and the response of the brother. For many years, the action carried my interpretation of the story.
Then, one day, I slowed down and read the parable, focusing on the father. I realized that the father was the protagonist. The parable centers on the response of the father rather than the actions of the sons.
When the youngest son demands his inheritance, the father actively responds. He divides the property between the brothers. According to Old Testament law, the younger son would receive one third of the property (Deuteronomy 21:17).
The son then leaves his father, only to squander his wealth and succumb to the perils of natural disaster. He reaches his breaking point when he is starving and has to take work feeding pigs, an animal Jewish people regarded as unclean under dietary laws.
Be Like the Father, not the Prodigal Son
When the youngest son returns home, the father actively welcomes him. He then prepares a feast in celebration of his returned child to honor his son.
When the older brother grumbles against the situation, the father actively exhorts him. He reminds his eldest of his place within the family and his portion of the inheritance. The father then calls the son to join him in the celebration.