The parable of the Prodigal Sons is one of the most famous in the Bible. Most people who notice the wonderful story of redemption for the younger brother, miss the more powerful story of the elder brother who rejects the father precisely because of his flagrant grace.
This was meant, of course, to show the Pharisees just how wrong they were for refusing to welcome sinners back into God’s fellowship. In fact, the more we study this parable, the more evil and outrageous the elder brother attitude looks because it harshly rejects the most amazing part of God’s character: His mercy. Properly recognized, his sin is far greater than that of his younger brother. However, there is a very dangerous trap here.
The trap is that we who love grace become elder brothers ourselves by despising elder brothers who despise grace. We can easily miss the fact that the same father who ran to greet his repentant son later left the celebration to go plead with his unrepentant one.
God wants to rescue the righteous from their righteousness every bit as much as He wants to rescue the sinful from their sin. And only when we are lovingly reclaiming both kinds of outsiders are we truly imitating Him!