In Jesus’ famous story, both sons are lost. The younger son is lost geographically; we can trace his lost-ness with GPS. The older son is relationally lost; we can trace his lost-ness on the cold and hardened dimensions of his heart.
Despite close proximity, the older son is emotionally distant from his father. When he hears a celebration on the homestead, he is not filled with joy, eager to join the festivities; instead he is immediately suspicious about what his father might be up to. What’s more, he refuses to enter the house – an insult to his father, the host. The younger son upon his return from the far country at least has the decency to address his father respectfully; the older son begins his tirade with “Look here!” The older son sees his work on the farm not as a partnership with his father but as slavery. And when he complains that he’s never been able to throw a party for his friends, the older son betrays his feelings against the people currently celebrating – the friends of the family apparently are not his friends.
It’s ironic. By external appearances, the older son is doing everything right: He’s at home with his father (unlike his younger brother); he’s responsible (unlike his younger brother); he respects the family property and reputation (unlike his younger brother).
Yet this isn’t the relationship the father desires. When the older son says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you…” I feel the father’s heart break again. I hear him thinking, I don’t want a slave. I want a son.
This parable reminds me that there are different kinds of lost-ness. Some are obvious, others not so much.
And this parable reminds me of how Jesus comes to save the sinful and the righteous. Apart from Him, both kinds of sons and daughters are lost.