Something that often gets overlooked in this very familiar parable is that both of the sons are sinful. We take it on faith that the youngest is sinful: taking half of his inheritance before his father is even in the grave, living a life of dissipation and sexual excess, using up all that money in a short time, content to eat among the swine which no good Jew would even think about touching, and finding himself very, very broken. But the so-called good son is sinful too. On his brother’s return, he refuses to go into the house to welcome him back, and takes his father to task for showing mercy and love. Failure to forgive is itself sinful.
Both sons are sinful in their own way. Both need the father’s love and mercy and forgiveness. And both receive it. Far from the way a proper Jewish father would act, he runs out to meet both sons where they are. Protocol would have them come to him, and not he to them. He comes out twice, once to meet the younger son who is on the way back to him, and once to meet his older son who refuses to come to him.
But as it stands, the younger son is more likely to receive forgiveness. Why? Because he is content to be on the way to his father and put himself at his father’s mercy. The older son isn’t even aware that he needs to be forgiven. He puts himself above his younger brother as the sinful black sheep of the family.
But Jesus cautions us in so many places that we cannot be so immersed in others’ sins that we miss seeing our own. That’s the message for us today. Wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we are, we need God’s mercy and forgiveness. And he is faithful in giving it. All we have to do is agree to come into the house.