Our Lord's attitude toward the sinning multitudes aroused the hostility of the Pharisees, and to them principally He uttered the great discourse of this chapter, consisting of a threefold parable. In its entirety it constitutes a wonderful revelation of the divine heart.
In the first phase, that of the Shepherd, the aspect of grace in the work of the Son is revealed. In the second, the aspect of grace is revealed in the work of the Spirit. The third phase of the parable necessarily unveils the heart of the Father. It shows unending love for the sinner following him to the far country, waiting for his homecoming, and then shining out in the welcome. The divine love is the theme throughout. Love goes to the wilderness. Love continues to seek. Love welcomes home.
The story ends wit? the account of one of whom we ever speak as the elder brother. It is at least significant that he is not called so in the narrative. The prodigal is spoken of as brother to this man, but he is ever called the "elder son." His attitude forfeited his right to be called a brother. Nevertheless, his story reveals the possibility of living in the father's house and failing to understand the father's heart. This was the failure which characterized those who criticized the work of our Lord.