I don’t know why I have never noticed this before, but the story of Jacob’s reunion with Esau sounds strikingly like Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.
After Jacob dishonestly and unscrupulously takes Esau’s birthright and blessing, he goes off into another land. After that situation gets bad enough, he decides to leave it and head back home. When we get to the story of the actual reunion, Genesis 32 and 33 goes out of its way to show that Jacob is putting as many of his livestock, children, and even his wives between him and Esau (that is, Jacob is a long way off when Esau starts coming to him). Here is how the reunion goes in Genesis 33:
4But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept….8Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” 9But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son begins in the same way, where the son horrifically asks his father for an early inheritance (the equivalent of wishing the father were dead), and he goes into a foreign land. When the situation gets bad enough, he comes back to his senses and decides to leave to be a servant to his father. Notice the links in Luke 15 to the other story:
20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
I’m not completely sure what the implications of this might be, but I find it very interesting. I’m wondering if Jesus might have been saying something a little deeper to his fellow Jews surrounding him than is usually suggested in the standard Prodigal Son sermon.