Each of the stories illustrates the joy our heavenly Father has when a sinner repents. Much can be learned about his love for sinners in these verses. But our Lord added something different to the third story, intending to teach his listeners something further. Just after the father commands his servants to kill the fatted calf, his older son returns from the field with a bad attitude about the whole situation (25-32).
When the faithful son returned from the field after a long day of work, he was surprised to find a party going on. “Did I forget dad’s birthday? No, that’s not for two more months. Is it mother’s day? Oh no! I forgot to buy her a present.” But before he ran out to the corner store to buy a card, the son ran over to a servant and asked him what was going on. The servant quickly informed him that his father was celebrating the return of his younger brother. “Your father has been worried about your brother for a long time. After praying for his return, God has finally answered his prayers. Your brother is safely returned. That’s the reason for the party! Won’t you join us?”
But the faithful son would not join in. Instead, he sat outside of the house and pouted. When his father found out about it, he begged his son to join in the merriment. But the son still refused. His face turned red as he bellowed at his father. “What are you doing, dad? This isn’t fair. I’ve been faithful all of these years. I’ve always done what you told me to do. I’ve worked on the farm and been a good son. But you’ve never thrown a party like this for me and my friends. But now that my brother has taken and wasted your money on sinful things, you throw a party for him when he comes back. It’s not fair, dad!”
But his father refused to give in to his oldest son’s pessimistic attitude. “Son, I am glad that you have been faithful all these years. And when I die, you will inherit all that I have. But it was right to celebrate your brother’s return. After all the sin he was involved with, he was like a dead person to me. And now that he’s repented, he’s alive again. I thought I had lost him forever, but now he’s been found! Don’t you understand why I’m so happy?”
Our heavenly Father is like the loving father in this story. He hates to see sinners walking away from him. He longs to see them repent and love him with all their hearts. When the tax collectors and sinful men came to speak with our Lord, he recognized something the others had missed. He knew they were coming to him seeking his help to escape their sinful lifestyles. That’s why he received them with open arms.
But the Pharisees and scribes didn’t understand this. Instead of helping these needy people, they hated them. “Why does the teacher eat with and talk to such wicked people?” They didn’t understand that God loves sinners and wants to help them. Too often we have this same mindset. When someone we know is living in sin, we hate them instead of trying to help. Like the older brother, we need to listen to the loving rebuke of the Father. And when repentance finally takes place, let’s be sure to rejoice.