First, the younger son, who broke all the rules by breaking away from his family, forcing an early reading of the will, cashing in the ancestral property and spending it all on his new friends and life. Perhaps because Scott is about to go visit our families, I have found this part of the story suddenly uncomfortable. How much are we as missionaries like this son? We have left our families, traveled to a far country, and spent our lives prodigally, in the sense of giving beyond our means of time and energy and money and life. And there are certainly days when the pediatric ward (running at 200% capacity lately) feels a short step away from the pig-sty, when the thought of returning to cobble together some sort of safer life sounds very appealing. How much pain have we caused our parents and siblings over the years by our absence? How much of the nobility of the "missionary call" is a holy veneer for independence, for setting ourselves apart and defining ourselves by who we are not? This is the younger son's approach.
Then, the older brother. He wants justice, he wants rules, he wants to be right. As Tim Keller points out, it is his very "goodness" that threatens to separate him from the reality of relationship, that makes him unwilling to come to the feast. Easy to see myself here, judging the world in such a way that I feel more noble, more helpful, more spiritual, or more persecuted, than the average person. So much so that life becomes a slaving drudgery of good works.
Both brothers are actually quite similar, using the father's property for their personal gain, insecure in their positions, jockeying, seeking identity by NOT being the other.
In contrast, the father. Who does not worry about looking foolish as he runs to welcome the younger son. Who does not tally up the losses as he throws in his robe, his ring, his fatted calf. Who does not allow the older son to sulk but seeks him out, and reaffirms that all he has is this son's. This character shines out of the story as the one person who is motivated by love. Not by freedom, not by maintaining his personal rights. And not by victory, by winning the argument or being proved correct. His only desire is to see both sons come in to the feast. Yes, the sons' behaviour has consequences for their life going forward from the dramatic point of reconciliation. But they will face those consequences together, in relationship.
So what would it look like for my life, for our lives as a family, as a team, to be purely motivated by love?
I suppose it would look like a pretty big party, a slaughtered calf and a lot of music and dancing. Something to dream and pray towards.