... continued from yesterday
So who are the prodigals today and how are we to treat them as Jesus followers? Probably the most straightforward answer is to identify them with anyone who quite explicitly pursues a life he or she knows is wrong. Modern day prodigals have told the rest of the world that they do not want to "go work in the field."
Just to give perspective, there are a whole lot of us who go to church and at least try to appear to be good people. Whether we turn out to be "older brothers" as in the parable is a discussion for a later chapter. The goal is for us to be like the father in the parable, to be a representative of our heavenly Father in our mercy and love. So I will return later to the question of hypocrisy and the more subtle sinfulness of the self-righteous.
But for now, let's just say that there are plenty of prodigals around as well. I could have said, there are plenty of people who have abandoned God, but I don't think a lot of prodigals experience their lives in such idealistic or spiritualized terms. To them, they are doing what feels good or what they want to do. They may not even believe that God exists or, if they do, he may be a fleeting thought at best.
Some prodigals know they are on the wrong path. They may be thinking they will eventually turn their lives around. Or they may want to turn their lives around but find themselves enslaved to a pattern of self-destructive or wrong-doing behavior that they cannot extract themselves or change the pattern. And of course there are those that simply do not care. They are those who are like the seed that birds immediately snatch from the path in the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4--words of what their lives should be like go in one ear and out the other.
Again, the "older brother," the one that begrudges the prodigal, has his own subtle problems, but I want to focus here on the prodigal, the blatant wrongdoer. Curiously, our realization that we "older brothers" have problems too has led some to accept problems as the status quo, rather than to see us as needing to fix things like the prodigal needs to fix things. But when we return to Jesus, we see that he wanted to see the problems of both individuals solved, not to create complacency with both sons as they were.
I would like to reduce our "take-away" on the prodigal to two points. First, followers of Jesus want to see prodigals redeemed. This works against our sense of justice. Justice insists that a person who does wrong receive an appropriate punishment.  Jesus wants to see the wrong doer reclaimed, forgiven.
This is not a "cheap grace," as if all the person who does wrong needs to do is say a few magic words. The prodigal son of Luke 15 was truly repentant. True repentance implies a real desire to change. The person who does wrong, says they're sorry, but continues to do the wrong over and over again, with continued apology, is either not truly repentant or perhaps is so enslaved that they cannot change in their own power...
 And of course the question of justice is its own question. One of the functions of government is to administer justice (Rom. 13:4). Systems of justice are arguably a different issue from the way we as individuals approach others.