Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
But when he was still far off he could see that the gate to his father’s estate was shut. As he got closer, he could see that it was locked fast. He held on to the bars, exhausted and hungry. And it started to rain.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields. When he came near the house, he could see his brother, huddled at the gate. He ran into the house and found his father upstairs, in his study, gazing out of the rain-splattered window.
“Father”, the older son said. “My brother is outside, at the gate! Give me the key and I will let him in!” His father turned to him, his face grave.
“You know I would love to”, he said. “But you also know my standards. I cannot tolerate or excuse bad behaviour. If I let him in, I would be condoning what he has done, and you know I cannot do that: it would contradict everything I stand for!” The older son pleaded with him, but the father would not relent.
Then the elder son said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Why don’t I take my brother’s place? You could banish me and let him in in my place. You could let me take his failings on myself, and treat him as though he had obeyed your orders as I have”
The father said nothing for a while, but stroked his beard. Then he said, “Yes. That would be acceptable”.
So they went down together to the gate. The father unlocked the gate and the younger son staggered in. The father hugged him and led him towards the house.
And the older brother slowly walked away down the road in the rain. The gate slammed shut behind him.
(The first three paragraphs (and a few other phrases) are © NIV)