You fix dinner for your family; you do it properly, the meat is cooked properly, the vegetables cut properly, but without love, and it tastes okay but if seasoned with love it would taste much better. Things done properly and only out of duty, if done that way long enough, will lead to resentment. Propriety will take us only so far; we will end up either saying "It's only a job", or like the elder son we say, "I have slaved for you all of my life, and you never even gave me a kid goat for a celebration".
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that things should not be done properly. There is proper and improper. Doing things properly shows respect for what you are doing and those for whom you are doing it. Improper means sloppily, no attention to details, without thought or concern. However, duty without love, means doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
You parents who do so much for your children and the children never seem to show any appreciation. For example, you are going to prepare Easter dinner again and nobody has offered to help. Now you have a choice to make: you can either prepare the dinner out of love knowing that they are not going to be slapping you on the back, or you can do it with resentment and grit your teeth through every painful moment. Believe me, your motive will come through. Don't you know by now that parenting comes with a price tag? Your children are never going to be able to fully repay you for the love you have shown them. You are going to be left holding the bill.
Best to do what Jesus did: He knew that his life and ministry were not going to be understood or appreciated. He knew that his friends would desert, deny and betray him. But Jesus goes to his death without resentment. Nobody takes my life from me, he says, I lay it down freely and I freely take it up again. If Jesus had died in the frame of mind of the elder son, his paschal mystery would not have been redemptive. As it is, we are saved not by his blood as much as by the love that led him to shed that blood.
You can hear the resentment and jealousy coming through the dialogue of the elder son with his father. "Look at how you fawn over this no good son of yours." The elder son is resentful of how much his improper brother seems to be getting away with. Your son went to Las Vegas and wasted your inheritance, now he comes back and gets a fatted calf. We are resentful about some people seeming to get ahead and not follow the rules, while we follow the rules and as they say: good men finish last. But virtue is its own reward and the wages of sin is death, and you don't have to wait until you die to find that out.
I'll tell you what is both loving and improper in this story: First the father giving his inheritance before he dies; God giving us our free will to accept or reject his love. Next the Father shedding all of his dignity and running to embrace his prodigal son. That is improper. By rights he should have made him crawl all the way up the front steps to the house. But that is why this story is such a powerful reminder of how God loves us, improperly, and why God's love is a mystery deep enough to save us - from ourselves, being proper but loveless.