It is tempting to think of Jesus’s parables as timeless, unvaryingly true for every age; it’s a temptation I find myself resisting in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A process of what one might call ‘postmodern contextual reframing’ has been going on in my mind, with the result that it is still a powerful parable, and it is still about prodigality. But it is not about a son.
Accepting the context from Jesus’s own telling, it is a story with a point about his own Father, a father who loves unconditionally. Hence Christians have constructed this man as a model for God. But our hard-to-resist emotional identification with the elder brother prompts a tiny reservation. Were the love as it should have been, we would not have this sense that he is right to feel aggrieved. Somehow there is a gap between words and deeds.