The parable of the Prodigal Son is very well known. It's used as an example to make all kinds of different points. It's an amazing story of redemption, parental love, forgiveness, etc.
I've always kinda hated it. That loser brother is so annoying. "Dad, give me all MY money. I'm leaving and I don't care about you or anything you've done for me. I'm going to be a huge douche bag, waste all your hard earned cash on frivolity, laze around with my loser friends who barely know me, end up homeless, destitute and depressed in a couple of months, then come back to have you fix all my problems and impose on you again. K?"
Obviously, I don't connect with the Prodigal.
The steadfast son is who I understand. I connect with him. The one who stays faithfully by his family's side, working hard, dealing with all the day-to-day cares of the household. He probably had to watch his dad's heart breaking over and over again while his brother made such terrible choices. He might have wanted to leave and do his own thing, too, but he knew his family needed him and he stayed. Sometimes that is the harder thing-to do what others need and to make sacrifices because you know it really is the better choice for everyone.
When the Prodigal returns, I bet the brother is not too happy about it. I assume that he's glad his brother is alive, and is glad to see his father happy again, but still a bit frustrated at the welcome the Prodigal receives. And wondering how long it will be before he's picking up the slack and watching his brother screw up again.
It is frustrating to see that the Prodigal seemingly gets REWARDED for his bad behavior with a party (more expense), a lot of attention and what seems to be a consequence-free end to his hard living, free spending ways. And after all that the brother has done, his dad seems to brush him off and take him for granted. To be completely petulant, it isn't fair.
I know that the point of the story is the depth of God's love and forgiveness to sinners. And while I also know that I am a sinner (like the Prodigal) it was only more recently that I realized that I AM the Prodigal! I've spent so much time sympathizing with the brother, that I went the opposite direction and got a little self righteous! The brother was probably in the same boat. He might have ended up focused on all the good stuff he'd done and continued to do that he thought he was so much better than his brother. He might not have realized the benefits that he was already getting.
I think we forget that making the right choices doesn't mean we deserve recognition or praise. Making the right choices means we don't have to suffer all the negative consequences that plague those who do follow the wrong path and who make mistakes. The Prodigal had to go through some awful stuff (so hungry that pigs' food looked appetizing?!?!) while his brother remained comfortable, protected and loved. And, of course, our ultimate rewards come in heaven, not on earth. THAT is really easy to forget because the earthly rewards are the tangible ones.
The Prodigal still annoys me. He had the same chances to do what was right, and chose wrong. He had the same loving family and gave up on them. I sympathize more with the brother in most ways, but I'm learning to admit and recognize my prodigal ways. The times and ways that I hurt others, show my selfishness and fall short of the standards that God sets. I know that I want to be welcomed back from my failures with as much love and forgiveness as the Prodigal receives, even if it doesn't feel like I've done anything nearly as extreme. Because it isn't about ranking our shortcomings or pitting them against each other. At the end of the day, we all have things to learn and areas to grow in. It doesn't help me to focus on anyone's issues but my own, or try to do a better/worse comparison.
So, I try to give the real life Prodigals some slack. Try to be as humble in my return to the fold as he was, returning home knowing how bad he must look after his ill-conceived foray into independence. And try to be grateful for the benefits I receive in the times that I chose not to stumble away from truth, even if they don't seem like much at the time.