The story of the lost son is perhaps Jesus’ most well known parable. It has been called the Prodigal Son. However, prodigal means “wasteful or extravagant” and the Father seems to be the most extravagant character in the story!
Jesus tells three parables in response to Pharisees who complained that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them!” All the stories deal with something lost, but only as the prerequisite to the joy of being found! The contrast with the religious leaders could not be more stark: Jesus rejoiced with the sinners who were coming to God, while the religious people could only complain. Their identity was built in opposition to the people Jesus welcomed, rather than in their relationship with the father!
The father in this story had two sons, both of whom were separated from their father. The younger son was away from home, living in a far country - free from all restraint! (Except, of course, the restraint of hunger and no resources!) The older son still lived at home, but he was just as estranged from his father. Both boys did not know their father and their lives were impoverished as a result. The younger son was surprised at his father’s grace. The older son was surprised at what he considered his father’s foolishness - for grace always looks quite foolish!