This is the story of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32)
There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father: "Give me my share of the estate." So the father divided his property between them.
Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off a distant land where he squandered his wealth in loose living. Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe broke out in that land. So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything.
Finally coming to his senses, he said: "How many of my father's hired workers have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against God and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants." With that thought in mind he set off for his father's house.
He was still a long way off when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said: "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son..."
But the father turned to his servants: "Quick! Bring out the finest robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and kill it. We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and is found." And the celebration began.
Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields As he returned and was near the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered: "Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he ordered this celebration and killed the fattened calf."
The elder son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The indignant son said: "Look, I have slaved for you all these years. Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. Then when this son of yours returns after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him."
The father said: "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.
Commentary (from the Christian Community Bible, Catholic Pastoral Edition):
There are three characters in this parable: the father, representing God; the older son, the Pharisee. Who is the younger son? Is he the sinner or perhaps Man?
The Man wants freedom and thinks, many times, that God takes it away from him. He begins by leaving the Father, whose love he does not understand and whose presence has become a burden to him. After having wasted the heritage whose value he does not appreciate, he loses his honor and becomes the salve of others and of shameful actions (pigs were unclean animals to the Jews).
The son returns. Having become aware of his slavery, he convinces himself that God has a better destiny in mind for him, and he begins on the road back to his home. Upon returning, he discovers that the Father is very different from the idea that he had formed of him: the father is waiting for him and runs to meet him; he restores his dignity, erasing the memory of the lost inheritance. There is a celebration of the feast to which Jesus referred so many times.
At last we understand that God is Father. He did not put us on earth to collect merits and rewards but to discover that we are His children. We are born sinners: from the start of our lives we are led by our feelings and the bad example of the society in which we have been raised. There is still more: as long as God does not take the initiative and reveal Himself to us, we cannot think of freedom other than in terms of becoming independent of Him.
God is not surprised by our wickedness since, in creating us free, He accepted the risk that we might fall. God is with all of us in our experience of good and evil, until He can call us sons and daughters, thanks to His only Son, Jesus. Note this marvelous phrase: I have sinned against God and before you. Sin goes against Heaven, that is, against God who is truth and holiness. But God is also the Father concerned for His son; the son has sinned before the one who draws good from evil.
Such is our God and Father, the one who creates us day after day, without our being aware of it, while we go on our way; the one who seeks sinners whom he can fill with his treasures.
The older son, the one who obeys, though with a closed heart, understands none of this. He has served with the hope of being rewarded, or at least, the hope of being seen as superior to others; and he is incapable to welcome sinners or to participate in the feast of Christ, because, in fact, he does not know how to love.