In Jesus’ day, only men owned property and the eldest son would receive a double share. Therefore, in today’s parable, the younger son takes his share of the estate, one third, and leaves to live a life of recklessness and fritter away everything. When he repents and returns, he receives not only his father’s mercy and forgiveness but something else the Jewish listeners of Jesus would find difficult to grasp. Since Matthew, Mark and John did not include this parable in their Gospels, maybe they also failed to grasp its deeper meaning.
Only Luke shares this parable of Jesus. Only Luke travelled with St. Paul, allowing him to glean much understanding of the Faith from Paul’s enlightened wisdom. We can only speculate, but consider Paul’s words to the Galatians: …there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:28-29).
The difficulty for Jesus’ listeners would have come with the Father giving the prodigal the coat, the ring and the sandals. They are all symbols of family. The coat represents authority, the ring was the family credit card. Slaves did not wear sandals, only family. He was endowing him with Sonship, making him a son again! Since sons were automatic heirs to the father’s estate, does this mean he has a new share? No, the father answers the older son’s unasked question when he says, “everything I have is yours.” This would have been the difficult part for Jesus’ Jewish listeners. How can the prodigal be a son without being an heir?
Jesus has just defined a New Sonship. We are all sons, male and female, and therefore heirs through Christ’s redemptive act of salvation but our inheritance is not of this earth. We are heirs to the Kingdom of God. He wants to shower us with all the gifts of family and all the love He has, IF… We can never forget how it all begins for the prodigal because it is the same for us. It begins with repentance.