When does the prodigal son’s brother get his share of the estate and why does it matter?

Poverty“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ Therefore, the father divided the property between them.” So begins the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” It is important that the text states, the father divided the estate between them. Estates are not static creations. Otherwise, if the estate decreases in value, the older, obedient son gets a smaller share. When the prodigal son returns home, if the estate had increased in value, the father could have told the older son, “The estate has increased in value; half the difference belongs to him. I judged that the fattened calf belongs to that half…”

384309_549304955086309_357628736_nWhen the prodigal son returns home, the father gives him a fine robe and ring, kills the fattened calf, and everyone, except the older, obedient son, has a party. The question is, “What right does the father have to throw the party?” If the estate was divided before the prodigal son left, the father is right when he says in verse 31, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

The older son argues with Rerum Novarum, “When a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive is to obtain property, and to hold it as his very own… If he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land is only his wages under another form. A working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor.”

Under the rules of the Protestant work ethic, rugged individualism, and the rules of private property, the father has no right to give the younger, prodigal son, anything. Family rules are different. As we grew up, our parents gave us things, and as we outgrew them, they took them away and gave them to others.

St Thomas aquinasRerum Novarum replies to the older son, “It is lawful,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “for a man to hold private property; it is also necessary for the carrying on of human existence.” “How must one’s possessions be used? Church replies…: “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.”

The Catholic Catechism, 2403 states, “The right to private property…, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to mankind…” Our church takes the middle position between capitalism and socialism. “Nation” has the same root as “Nativity.” A nation is a group of people born together, of common heritage. Our church speaks with the prodigal son’s Father, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. Now! We must celebrate and rejoice, your brother was dead and has come to life again.’” There is private property, but family, but life, can and must come first. All born into our nation are family. Do we treat all in our nation as family?


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