I think that the wonderful thing about parables and why they are such great teaching tools are that they can apply at several different levels. "The Prodigal Son" is one of those examples.
In talking about this I'm referring to the scripture (Luke 11-32) and not the movie, which is a good variation, even if I still get irritated with the wife every time I watch it. I know she is right, but she could be more compassionate her own self, (but that's a whole other story.) This is a reference to a movie the church once made.
I think the important thing to remember is that while the story talks of hope, redemption and love, it also talks about the importance of being diligent, obedient and faithful.
When the second son took his portion early on and took it with him into the world and ended up hanging with swine,"(V:13), I think what Christ is referring to is to those who have the gospel and the knowledge given to them without much work on their own, i.e. "goods that falleth to me," and who then take what they have and go out and live like the rest of the world does.
I think this has a lot to do with our own personal conversions. Yes, some of us can be born in the church, even go on a mission and still not really understand it enough to realize that it's not a treasure unless we apply it to our lives.
I also think that part of the redemption aspect is that they know that they can come back and fix things if they desire to.(v.17 and 18) I truly feel that those people who truly have and understand the gospel, even if they are tempted, won't because they understand what they have. That doesn't mean they aren't tempted and that they don't sometimes make mistakes.
It is interesting to point out that when the son goes to the world for help after he starts to want (v. 14) the world doesn't help him, they send him to the fields to dwell with swine (v. 15) this could very well tell us what the value the real world places on us and make us think twice about wanting to be part of it. How much of this is seen in the world, once someone has fallen out of what is considered to be what is "in" at the time.
As for a second class reward. Remember that what the two sons started with are portions. Not rewards.
They had to do something with what they had to make it a reward. I think that part of the reward for obedience early on is that you don't have to go through all the "swine" parts to find out that what you had is really your treasure that you squandered if you did hang with pigs so to speak. And please don't take this to be a judgment of pigs, we are all sinners, but in avoiding sin sometimes it's important to avoid those who would encourage us to sin.
The treasure is only treasure if it's applied to our life. The gospel doesn't mean anything if it's knowledge that isn't acted on. That doesn't mean you won't be rewarded if you come back, but it also doesn't mean you won't have to accept that you also lost something as a result of your decisions. (V. 17) And the fatted calf can go about it's life and not killed. I think the poor bovine is the real victim in this tale.
When the other son came back and saw what was going on his pride overcame him as it does with a lot of people including myself at times. Sometimes I think this is natural frustration because its like having to watch someone you love suffer needlessly because they know the truth but don't want to accept it. That too is pride. You know the whole, "You have no right to judge me," mentality. I think that's has to be one of the most often over used scriptures and misunderstood scriptures, what I think is really amusing and yes, tragic, is the next part about "go and sin no more is never remembered by the one using it to defend their actions.
Sometimes when a person is trying it is viewed by those who are aren't as self rightness, because I think they resent the fact that they see happiness. But yes, I also think the older brother indignation gets the best of him and yes, a sin on the older brothers part, but lets have a little compassion for him also. He is trying.
I think what the father meant when he told the other son that "Son, thu art ever with me, and all that I have is thine," (v.31) means that he will earn his reward for "Sticking to it." Also that he already understands that his reward is that he didn't have to learn it the hard way. Meaning that yes, their are greater rewards for obedience, just as there are different levels in the kingdom of God. It doesn't mean God loves someone less, but we get what we deserve.
And yes sometimes that means while we are "out wasting our substance with riotous living," (V. 13) and then discover the world is actually in some kind of feminine (14)or moral decay and the goods part of the returning process is the revelation that we had are what protects us from having to suffer through this to begin with. I think this is why we have agency. The tragic part is when someone who has this gift don't realize that the gift is that he doesn't has to go suffer through life on his own and if he really understood it that in living the gospel, he will be happy instead of trying to make his own happiness and finding self produced happiness to really be of little real value, "And he would fain to fill his belly with the husks that the swine did eat." (V. 16.)
I do believe we have to learn things on our own in order for it to mean something to us. And maybe the years in the world can do this, but I think it is also far better to not have to go through this by "Sticking to it" to begin with. One of the first sons rewards was that he didn't have to go through the process of losing something in order to discover he had it to begin with and who knows what kinds of opportunities were lost during the second sons adventures in riotous living.
If this is the case in someones life, I hope that they will use this lesson and realize that they need the gospel and come back to it before it's too late.
Yes, the father was overjoyed that his other son had come home, enough to kill the calf and throw a party complete with "musick and neck kissing," just as Heavenly Father rejoices when one of us returns to the fold so to speak. But I think he is even more happy when we don't leave to begin with.
I think the problem is that sometimes we look at parables for more then what they are. They aren't the complete picture, I think they also are adaptable to a lot of situations and sometimes when certain parts are emphasized over other parts they may be used to emphasize something that really isn't there. I don't think this parable means that sinners who repent are going to get a second class reward any more then it means that sinners who repent will get the same as those who never sin to begin with. This is a story about how a father is happy when his son returns and how he welcomes him back and celebrates his return. Both sons started with the same reward, it was up to the individuals to decide what to do with it in order for it to become anything. God is just happy when we are near him.
I do think we have to admit to ourselves if we do wrong that, yes, because of what we do we may not deserve "All that is thine," but maybe we aren't ready for it and haven't spent our whole life preparing for it by by being "forever with me."
The key though is that the atonement makes up for a lot of mistakes when we accept it. We are all saved so to speak, that's mercy. Our actions dictate what happens after that, that's justice.
Everything we need to return to our Father is found within and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think it's just a matter of accepting and living it.