The beginning of the parable of the prodigal son characterizes both father and young son. The father, a kind and generous man divides all his possessions equally between his two sons. The younger son then gathers all his new assets and travels to a far away land to live a wasteful and irresponsible life. This reinforces the negative stereotype of younger siblings are reckless and spoiled.
The son soon wastes all of his wealth and must take a menial job feeding swine. This is particularly distasteful, as the story is set in the Holy Land and the young man is almost certainly Jewish, and working with swine, pork, proves his desperation. In addition, because of his seemingly privileged background, working in filth must be especially embarrassing.
After the son decides he has had enough “dirty work”, he opts to go home. He then concocts a scheme to ask for his father’s forgiveness. He tells his father when he arrives home that he is unworthy of being the man’s son. He makes himself seem desolate and regretful, all the while hoping his father will welcome him back into the “lap of luxury”. The father however is genuine in his response. He is truly thrilled to have his youngest son home again.
The father orders that the son wear best wardrobe and has the fatted calf slaughtered for a glorious feast and celebration honoring the boy’s return. This once again shows the fathers sincere kindness and compassion. Even though his son forsakes him, he is willing to forgive.
All the while, the older brother works out in the fields, reinforcing the positive stereotype of older siblings as responsible and ambitious. When he hears a celebration is honoring his brother he gets angry and refuses to attend. He feels resentful, as it seems his hard work is unnoticed. His brother was reckless and gluttonous while he was hard working and accountable. Most individuals would feel the same way in that situation.
The lesson learned from the parable of the prodigal is one of forgiveness and pride. The father teaches his oldest son not to be jealous of his younger brother, but to relish in his return. The father demonstrates that family solidarity is most important. In the last two lines, he tells his older son to be happy that his younger son was at home and safe again. It expresses that individuals can always count on family if nothing else.