the parable has so many lessons and each of us will take a different lesson away from it.
both sons thought they knew better than the father and were both proven wrong. the father knows what we don't and we need to respect that.
i'd like to draw attention to some of the verses:
(12) And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. (the younger son); and (29) ... And yet thou never gavest me (a kid), that I might make merry with my friends (the older son).
notice: both sons asked for the same thing.
the difference follows: when the younger son sinned he sinned. then when he repented he repented. his dirt was dirty and his clean was clean (because his father forgave him without malice). the older son had the same sinful inclination but lacked the nerve to follow through. with the older son, his dirt and his clean were almost identical; not quite dirty enough to be sinful, but not spotless enough to be righteous. his righteousness changed depending on how much you knew about him. there isn't a right son/wrong son debate. to me, one son was wrong in public where his sin was exposed and corrected, and the other was wrong in private where his sin was well hidden but the father knew it all along and corrected him also.
the younger son and older son alike were also selfishly demanding. it wasn't until the younger son lost all that he learned to pray. furthermore, the younger son learned to be decisive, to stand and account for his actions (in v18 and 19). the older son never did but instead resorted to excuses (v29) and blame (v30). he stayed selfish to the very end.
only one son repented and only he was happy to be in the mansion. how many of us who have been saved too long will enjoy being in heaven? i'm sure some of us 'older son' believers will complain when we see streets of gold and whine because they're not streets of platinum. surely god owes us some platinum after we've served him all these years, doesn't he? i won't even mention what we'll say about some of the other 'younger son' believers we scorn as 'unsaveable' who arrive in heaven before we do. the devil himself would be ashamed to utter such backbiting and cursing.
now i'd like to contrast the sons' demands with the father's actions:
(22) ... Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: (23) And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry (to his younger son); and (31) ... All that I have is thine (to his older son).
bring the fatted calf! all that i have is yours! could either son say the same thing to their father? this shows the error of both their ways. the first couldn't say this because he had nothing. the second couldn't say this because he was selfish. neither son could be generous to their father because they were dependent on what he gave them. neither one was an earner. both failed to learn the lesson of wealth-building their father taught them daily with his words and actions. if you can't learn to be wealthy from a tycoon, who will teach you to be wealthy. if you can't learn to be generous from one who can afford generosity, who will you learn it from. these are important lessons neither son learned. again, it's not about which son was 'better' off. both missed the mark.
and now, let's contrast the story with the storyteller.
jesus himself was a son who inherited his father's great wealth. he's also a son who left home, so he did what both sons did. unlike the other sons, jesus increased his father's wealth and returned home to unselfishly share with his father. he didn't sqander his returns like the younger son or try to angle his way to his father's portion of the family money like the older one. jesus didn't try to cut his father out of the picture like the other sons. his father was ever foremost in his mind. jesus didn't divide his wealth from his father; he multiplied it unto his father.
so often we read this parable and we wonder which son we're like. instead, we are free to look to the storyteller for the best example.