Jesus was the oldest son in his family. Likely Joseph (Christ’s father) died sometime after Jesus was 12 years old. At least, scholars believe this due to the silence of the gospels about Joseph during Christ’s ministry. Jesus had the responsibilities of the oldest son. I’ll come back to this after discussing the oldest son in the Prodigal Son Parable, Luke 15:24-32.
THE FIRST PART OF THE PRODIGAL SON PARABLE
I covered the first part against its cultural background already. Adding to this,
A farm was by the law of the time a family possession…passed to the eldest son…. The younger brother’s request amounts to wishing his father’s death…. In light of the implications…it is…remarkable that the father concurs. In the Middle Eastern milieu, the father is expected to explode and discipline the boy for the cruel implications…. It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic illustration of…love…in this opening scene…. The father must have made the “dismission” with the reservation that the…father in his old age might need support.
…the first-century Palestinian ceremony of the qesasah. The word literally means “a cutting off” …in force at the time of Jesus…formal act of “cutting off” and then of restoration… “reinvestiture….” The…qesasah ceremony is…evidence of the solidarity of the extended family and the community. Family property lost to gentiles was a serious matter. An erring son who violated the community solidarity was dealt with in radical fashion.From Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes
WHAT ABOUT THE OLDER SON WHEN THE YOUNGER SON ASKS FOR HIS SHARE OF INHERITANCE?
In Luke 15:12
the older son also receives his share of the inheritance. We expect him to respond in 2 ways. First, he should loudly refuse to accept his share in protest… His silence strongly suggests that his relationship with his father is not what it should be…. The Oriental listener/reader also expects the older son to…take up the traditional role of reconciler. Breaks in relationships are always healed through a third party…selected on the basis of the closeness of the relationship on each side…. His silence means refusal.
The Talmud notes…sons…carried out the qesasah ceremony. They were responsible for reconciliation as well as for…failure. If the older son hates his brother, he [should] still go through the motions of trying to reconcile for the sake of his father. This older son remains silent….From Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes
WHEN THE YOUNGER SON RETURNS
The…second half of the parable…culturally and stylistically a repetition of the first half…. The older son appears…in the fields…. His path to the banquet hall is step by step presented as parallel to the road just traveled by the prodigal…. The inversion principle is again used.
It is clear that there is a loud, boisterous, joyous celebration in progress…. The…father decides to butcher a calf and thus…invite most, if not all, of the village…. The calf is…cut into sections and baked in bread ovens…. When some of it is cooked, the music starts…signals to the village that there is something to eat.
The older son…decides not to enter…. Custom requires his presence…the older son has a…semi-official responsibility. He is expected to move among the guests, offering compliments, making sure everyone has enough to eat, ordering the servants around…. If he wants to fight with his father over the way his brother was received, he should first enter the house and fulfill his role as joint host. He is expected publicly to embrace and congratulate his brother, and to accept the compliments…from the guests who assume his joy…. When all are gone, then he can complain….
Middle Eastern customs…high regard for the…father makes the older son’s actions extremely insulting…. There is now a break in the relationship between the older son and his father that is nearly as radical as the break between the father and the younger sonFrom Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes
PARALLELS WITH CHRIST’S OWN EXPERIENCES; CONTRASTS AND SIMILARITIES
You’ll be interested in Christ’s own pressures from his family and community if you haven’t read that yet. I’d like to add here I think these pressures made Christ leave Nazareth and make Capernaum “his own town” just before he began his ministry (Matthew 4:13). It even seems he built or bought his own house in Capernaum (Mark 2:1, 15). Jesus broke with most customs to follow what his Heavenly Father wanted.
CONFRONTING THE PHARISEES
Christ’s parable was designed to show up the Pharisees’ failure to forgive and accept publicans and sinners. But have you ever argued when you were angry and wrong? How committed are you to the truth and what’s right?
If Jesus built his own home in Capernaum, he went from building with chalk rock (which was all that Nazareth was built on) to building with basalt rock (all that Capernaum was built on). Chalk rock crumbles easily, basalt rock is one of the hardest rocks there are to chisel. The above pictures reflect the difference, from Nazareth chalk rock, chalk rock, chalk rock-1, Capernaum basalt rock, basalt rocks, basalt rocks-1, and basalt rocks-2.