This is my all time favorite section of Scripture. There are many which I say are among my favorites, this section is at the top of the list. It probably has to do with my past and what God's faithfulness has meant in my life. Interestingly as I journey with God more I find the meanings to be deeper and contain more layers.
In all three of the stories there is something of great value which was lost. An all out search ensues, and once the lost becomes found there is a great party. In the third of the stories we find a son who demands his portion of the estate from his father. Basically saying he knows better how to live, and does not want any interference from dad. At this point when the dad grants this outrageous request the son is essentially dead to the father. While the father continues to look, hope and pray for the son in the Jewish tradition the son would have been treated as though he had died.
Independent living is what the son wanted and that is what he got. He was living the good life while the money lasted. He ran with the in crowd, life was a party. Once the money ran out the party moved on. Famine hit the land and the son was in some dire straits. This Jewish boy ended up doing the unthinkable, tending pigs. But this is the life he wanted, independent, making it on his own.
The moment comes when he comes to himself. He realizes even the servants back in his father's home had it better than he does. So he returns. In his return he is saying the father knows best how do go about this thing called life. To celebrate this recognition, the father throws a huge party. That which was dead is now alive, the lost is found.
The older brother is not real thrilled by all of this. He has not realized the freedom he has had all along because he was living connected to the father. The freedom was never experienced because the older son never chose to enjoy the freedom.
When we decide to live life the way God shows us, we can experience freedom. A freedom most of us think is out of our reach.