Today's Gospel presents to us the story of the Prodigal Son, a story which can seem all too familiar to us. The younger son squanders his father's wealth, ends up empty-handed, and returns to the father seeking mercy. He receives so much more than mercy, though—the father welcomes him with open arms and offers him forgiveness and love. The sin of the son is erased, and everyone rejoices. Sometimes we turn away from our Father, and when we return seeking mercy, we receive full forgiveness and Love. But if this is the only message that we receive from this parable, then we are only hearing half of the story. Benedict XVI, in the first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth books, refers to this parable as, not the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the Parable of the Two Brothers and the Merciful father. The role of the older brother is intensified when we remember that Jesus addresses this parable to the Scribes and Pharisees—those known for regular observance and adherence to Jewish law and custom. The Scribes and Pharisees were much more akin to the older brother—the one who had been faithful his entire life. All of this leads me to wonder: did the older brother enter the feast?
Jesus does not answer this question within the parable. He ends the story, leaving us in suspense regarding the older brother’s decision. By doing so, he is directly placing the Scribes and Pharisees in the role of the older brother. The invitation to enter the feast becomes an invitation to them. Christ is inviting them to join the tax collectors and sinners who, after being redeemed, are enjoying the reign of God. The invitation is still valid today, too. Will we join the feast?