Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, in his excellent book, The Prodigal God, shows how the two sons in this story are symbolic or representative of two types of people. They show us two ways that people try to find happiness and fulfillment in life.
Younger brother types represent those who choose the way of 'self discovery'. They choose to do their own thing, breaking free from the rules and traditions of society. These are the people who colour outside the lines and don't like boundaries imposed upon them. They look out for number 1.
This sort of living may work for a while but eventually there are consequences and in the end it can become quite destructive. When younger brother types come to their senses and turn around (repent), the Father God is pleased and is willing to offer them his grace and forgiveness ... and a fresh start.
Older brother types represent those who choose the way of 'moral conformity'. They choose to keep the rules and traditions of society, because it is the right thing to do. They seek to be self-controlled and self-disciplined at all times. They are into ethical strictness.
What Jesus teaches, however, is that it is possible to always seek to do the right thing, to even be 'religious', and yet still be spiritually lost. Older brother types can easily tend towards being self-righteous, superior (looking down on others), and proud. When things don't go well for them, they tend to become angry, bitter, and resentful (after all, they deserve better). Towards others who are shown mercy or grace, they can be judgmental and unforgiving. Even their obedience to the rules can be out of mere duty ('I've been slaving for you all these years ...'). Theirs is a fear-based joyless compliance. The Father God appreciates their obedience but questions their motives and whether they are on a self-salvation project or really engaged with the father's heart.
Which way do you lean? Yes, these are two extremes, but we all lean one way or the other. Sometimes we lean different directions at different seasons in our lives. A younger brother who is shown God's grace can gradually drift into an older brother attitude if he or she is not careful. An older brother whose life falls a part a bit can react and become like a younger brother.
More tommorow ..