When Jacob stole his brother’s birthright he did so while Esau was “out in the field.” Isaac sent Esau out to hunt some game for him before he blessed him, but Jacob represented himself as Esau and Isaac believed him. When Esau did return with game the natural conclusion is that he returned from the field. The older son in Jesus’ parable is explicitly said to be returning from the field.
Upon arriving at the house in both stories, the older sons face an injustice. Esau discovers that Jacob has tricked him out of his blessing. The older son in Jesus’ story discovers that the father has started a celebration for his success in “getting his son back” through the show of costly grace. The older son believes it an injustice that the younger son did not have to make restitution before being restored. Both Jacob and the younger brother have much to fear from their older brothers as they return home.
Esau is furious about having been tricked and vows to get Jacob. He holds Jacob responsible even though it was partly his father’s inept behavior that led to the circumstances. It is clear from the passage that Esau intends harm Jacob when he returns but Esau is diverted from his intentions, at least temporarily, by Jacob’s maneuvering. After a brief meeting, the two part and are never reconciled. The older brother in Jesus story is infuriated at both his brother and his father. The story ends with the reconciliation of the older son in question.
As Jacob leaves Laban and the older son confronts his father, they both give angry speeches. Bailey notes that both included the complaint that “I have slaved for you all these years.” Furthermore, both speeches include protestations of innocence, claims of injustice, declarations that their honor has been violated. Jacob’s claims are unjust because he had stolen from his father-in-law and the older son’s claims are false because of the disrespectful way he accepted his inheritance at the beginning of the story. Both Jacob and the older son in the stories are self-deceived and these are precisely the roles in which Jesus casts the scribes and Pharisees. (The older son protests that even a lamb has not been prepared in his honor. Bailey notes that these two stories are the only two places where mention is made of using kid meat for food and says he knows of no theological reason why this should be so. He takes it as one more sign of Jesus’ intention to link the two stories.)
Bailey notes that when Laban responds to Jacob’s angry speech Laban says, “All you see is mine.” He is accusing Jacob of stealing it from him but because of the circumstances he knows he can’t recover it. Instead, Laban and Jacob make a truce and depart unreconiled. When the father responds to the older son’s angry speech in Jesus’ story, the father says “All that is mine is yours.” The father has taken nothing from the son and gives grace out of his own supply. Theologically, the father is telling the older son there is plenty of grace for everyone.
When Laban reaches agreement with Jacob they seal their separation with a sacrifice and a meal. The story Jesus told ends with older brother outside the house refusing to participate in the sacrifice and meal of reconciliation. Jacob and Esau come to a truce but there is no reconciliation or joy. By Contrast there is much joy over reconciliation at the end of all three parables in Luke 15.
Of particular interest is the fact that this story comes in response to the complaint of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus eats with sinners. At the end of Jesus' parable it is the father who eats with sinners (the prodigal son) and the old brother (the Pharisees) who refuse to come in.
The nation of Israel, and certainly the scribes and Pharisees, identified with Jacob and saw his saga as a symbol for their existence. Esau, who became the father of the nation of Edom. Edom was considered a mortal enemy. Consequently, any parallels with Jacob would be how the scribes and Pharisees would liked to have been identified. When Jesus tells his three-in-one parable, he “fellowships” with lost sheep, lost coins, and prodigal sons. Also in each story there are ninety-nine sheep, nine coins, and one brother who purportedly need no repentance (finding). Youngest son Jacob is the model the Pharisees identify with but Jesus casts the youngest son as the prodigal. The Compassionate father is the one who welcomes “Jacob” back. If the scribes and Pharisees will not accept the reconciliation of “Jacob,” then by definition they become Esau or Edom, enemy of God and Jacob.