And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.' ~ Luke 15:31-32 (ESV)
One of Jesus' better known parables tells the story of the prodigal son. The younger of two sons asks for his share of the inheritance from his still-living father, only to party it away with fair-weather friends in a foreign country. A famine strikes and the prodigal is reduced to slopping hogs and is soon hungry enough to join them at the trough. Then he comes to his senses, realizes that his father's workers have plenty to eat, and decides to go home, confess his sin and work as a hired hand. As he approaches home, his father sees him coming and runs out to meet him. The lost son has returned. A celebration ensues and everyone is happy. Well, not everyone.
The eldest son enters the picture again. At the time of the dividing of the inheritance, the story tells us that the father "divided his property between them". So the elder son had also received his share of the inheritance. But now he is angry. He stayed and worked the fields, doing all that his father asked him to, but with no reward or thanks. Now his irresponsible brother comes home after wasting all his money and there's a party thrown for him. Is he justified in his anger?
Not really. His father's words to him, given in our verse above, show the true picture. "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." The elder brother, though living in his father's household and sharing in all the blessedness of it, was as oblivious to the grace of his position as was the younger brother. At least the younger brother, via hardship, had finally come to his senses. The elder brother daily shared in his father's love, but didn't see it or appreciate it. How short-sighted. How tragic.
Jesus told this parable to some strictly religious Jews who were unhappy that Jesus was willing to associate with the sinners who were coming to him. They were the elder brother in the story, unable to see or to share in the grace of the father, and angry when he accepted those who did.