The Prodigal Son parable has many notable aspects to it. I wish to point up two of them.
First, the figure of the prodigal presents less than what we might hope for. That is, the motive for his return to his father is simply getting something good to eat regularly. His motive is nothing more than that. It was good of him to admit that he 'had sinned against heaven and against you', but the motive is still poor, and he cannot bring himself to expect more than a hiring; he expects he will be living in the city, not on his father's property, and so hired each day. In no way does this son expect the actions of his father. The point is that, no matter what the son thinks or what moves him to come home, the father will make him 'son' again, with a right to an eventual inheritance. Just come home, and you will find a love beyond telling, if Jesus had not already described it in this parable. Just come home.
Second, the elder son thinks he is being mistreated when his father gives a banquet for the prodigal, while never giving anything to him. Indeed, he has remained faithful - which is precisely what the prodigal did not. The father asks the elder son to think about his life: he has been with the father always, a life the younger son never enjoyed, and indeed never will, in the sense that his sinful life was a life apart from his father. Was that period in the younger son's life bad? The prodigal is the first to say, "I want to go home". Can the life with his father be something the elder son should value, thanking God that he had a life with, not apart from, the father?
Moreover, everything the father has is the elder son's. Forget the momentary party and the eating of the calf. Every day with the father is a blessing; neither the prodigal nor the elder son ever knew this.
We chide ourselves for not appreciating what a life with our Father means, and the more we think about it, the truer it is. But who can estimate the love of our Father for us? Who would ever guess that after living this life we would be given every sign of sonship, and forever?
Such is our Father, and such are his children.
John Kilgallen, SJ