Rivalry among brothers is quite common even in the Bible. Brotherly rivalries such as Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau, Solomon and Adonijah and so on, all in some way related to their inheritance share. In the parable of the Prodigal son Jesus illustrates a similar rivalry so that his audience could relate to it but at the same time takes the brotherly rivalry into another level and cautions his listeners against spiritual rivalry. The word Prodigal means to be wasteful – both the sons were wasteful. The younger brother did not realize what he had at home while the elder brother wanted his father’s inheritance all for himself.
The Parable of the two sons (Prodigal son) draws similarities from the life of Jacob and Esau. The Rivalry between Jacob and Esau started in Rebecca’s womb. Gen(25:22) Esau was the perfect son to Isaac, he was responsible, respectful and obedient. All of which Jacob was not. But Jacob Loved the Lord. Esau might have been the perfect son but he did not love God and God hated him for that, Mal(1:3) and his inheritance was stripped from him. Even though Jacob left his father’s house God choose him to be the leader of his People and named him Israel. It seemed Esau did everything right or so he thought, but his heart was not right.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son the Younger Son was sheltered by his father for so long and had whatever he needed. He was impatient and curious of what was out there and that it could be better. He sought self-reliance and thought he could have an even better life on his own. We might think we don’t need God’s protective field around us and that we can handle anything this world throws at us. But the truth is we can’t even walk without God holding our hand.
The Elder Son shows that he cares for his father and is loyal for so long, working for his father. He does not object when the younger brother asks for his share of inheritance and leaves their father’s household but he objects when he comes back. He thought that he had earned his father’s bequest through his loyalty, hard work and devotion to his family. He represents those self-righteous people who think they are saved because of their good deeds. More than that they think they hold the right to deny anyone coming to Christ. How foolish and mistaken are they. Jesus illustrates these self-righteous people as the priests and Pharisees holding on to the scriptures and deciding whom they let in their temples. If the elder son had first seen his brother returning he would have surely sent him away without his father’s knowledge.
The father was extremely happy and welcomed his lost son with open arms and spared no expense in celebrating that his son had come home. After all, it’s all his money. Why did the elder son think that he had right over it? Unless he too in his mind had already accepted his share before the death his father. Then that would make him at par with what his younger brother had done. Even though it was customary at that time for the elder son to have the major share if not all of his father’s bequest, we have seen time and time again God choosing the younger sons to lead Israel. Jesse did not argue with Samuel when he anointed David as king over his seven other sons. Also David chose Solomon as his heir over Adonijah. Even if the elder son considered it as unfair no one could argue with the will of their father. But over here the elder son shows his frustration and anger and refuses to participate in the banquet that his father had arranged. The father replied,
My Son you are always with me, and everything I have is yours but we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. – Luke 15:31.
The elder son was unable to accept that his sibling had found forgiveness in the eyes of their father. Jesus uses this parable about brotherly rivalry to illustrate the spiritual rivalry existing in our churches. Are we becoming a stumbling block for someone to reach the Father or are we acting as a stepping stone.