This is probably one of the more famous parables that is pretty universally accessible when we apply it to a parents' love or just a lesson in forgiveness. It's right up there with the Loaves and Fishes and the Good Samaritan as a Bible story that pretty much most people know. This is a really great story and is a very challenging to apply to life, especially right now. It is good to forgive people and welcome them, but at the same time you don't necessarily want to be an enabler of someone who doesn't learn from their mistakes.
The Pastor at my church is a really, really great speaker and always gives very insightful and educational homilies. His sermons always provide a challenge for self improvement in a way that brings us closer to God. Today, he broke down the Prodigal Son in a way I had not thought about before: that neither son truly loved their father, but despite this the father loved both even after recognizing their faults. While the son who wasted his fathers' wealth's wrongdoing is easy to see, his brother, the obedient son, is shown to be bad as well in the way he treats his father and speaks to him. He is written to sound more like an employee than a relative, and this is how we see that he, too, doesn't really love his father.
In the context of the Bible, this was a lesson that was supposed to apply to the Pharisees, who criticized Jesus for spending time with those acknowledged as "sinners." In the story, God is the father, the sinners are the prodigal son, and the Pharisees are the obedient son. When explaining this, our Pastor asked us which are we? The prodigal or the obedient son? Do we reject God in preference for our worldly desires, or do we believe only because we secretly want something out of it? And if we can be categorized as one or the other, do we have the right to point out others' faults? At the end, God will always welcome us to him even if it seems like we may not deserve it.
It's pretty surprising, this story has much more to it than I've always thought. I think I'd personally fall into both categories in some ways- just today I blogged about a lack of self control, but I do have self-righteous thoughts and biases even though I hate those feelings. They're human feelings and actions, but this story does offer comfort in the face of my mortal weaknesses. Lots to think about...