We can neither earn nor lose God's love.
In today's gospel we see Jesus speaking to a crowd of Pharisees and scribes and tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees and scribes were very conscientious about keeping the law and may well have seen that as a way to earn God's favor. The tax collectors and sinners were told by society that they were outside of God's love. To all of them Jesus told this parable.
We know the story of the prodigal son, a son who turns his back on his father. When he realizes his situation and returns home, he assumes he has lost his father's love and is willing to be considered just a hired hand. Yet he is greeted with his father’s love, with compassion and forgiveness.
This is also a story of the older son. He is angry and jealous about his younger brother’s generous reception. This son has not failed his father, but has served his father well and not disobeyed. He, too, is assured of his father's love, not because of his faithful service, but simply because he is also a beloved son.
But mostly this is a story of a father, an image of God, who’s love is constant, unconditional and not predicated upon either son's behavior. This must have come as a surprise to both the Pharisees and scribes and the tax collectors and sinners… for very different reasons! To those considered unworthy by society because of their profession or illness or lack of status this was a liberating word. And to those who felt that a privileged place in society gave them a privileged place in God's eyes this must have been a shock.
What about us?
I reckon we have each spent some time in each son’s shoes. We have sinned, screwed up by "a life of dissipation” or… more likely… something less dramatic. Then we need to remember that no behavior on our part can separate us from God's love. We can hurt ourselves and others, for which we seek forgiveness, but we cannot lose God's love.
And we have been the faithful son/daughter, not so that God would love us but because God loves us and we seek to return that love.
Always… we are loved by God… That is our story.