Tuesday, May 27, 2014

the true story of the prodigal son

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

I am the son who went and asked his father for his share of the estate.

He gave it to me without hesitation, which surprised me.

It surprised me because I had never heard of a son ask for his share of the estate. Even more, when I asked some of my peers in the neighbourhood what would happen if a son asked for his share, they were horrified at the idea. They couldn't imagine a son ever asking his father for his share.

“That would be like wishing him to be dead,” they said. “No one would do that, and even if someone did, his father would beat him for it.”

So I was surprised when he gave me my share.

But I was also not surprised.

I was not surprised because my older brother had told me this is what would happen. He told me that his father hated me and would do anything to get rid of me. He told me that to his father, giving up half his estate would be a small price to pay.

When my brother first told me, I didn't believe him.

I didn't believe him because I didn't think our father would do something like that. I didn't believe that he hated me…

But after a while, I began to wonder. What my brother said explained a lot of things. Why else did our father do nothing when my brother and his friends beat me? Why else did my brothers and sisters get away with putting me down and treating me like trash?

My brother said his father hated me just like he did. That his father wanted rid of me even more than the rest of them did. That I was a scourge on the family, and they wanted nothing to do me.

I didn't want to believe him. I said it wasn't true, and yet week after week, he told me the same thing.

And then one day, he said, “You don’t believe me? Here’s how to find out for sure: go to my father and ask for your share of the estate.”

“What?! I can’t do that.”

“Why not? You think he’ll beat you? No, that’s what fathers who love their sons do. But he doesn't love you. He’ll give you your share just to get rid of you forever.”

leaving for a far country, drawing by rob gI didn't want to know if it was true, but finally, it was too hard to keep believing. It would be better to know one way or the other.

So I asked my father for my share of the estate.

He gave it to me.

And I left for a far country.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

That’s the official story. It’s pretty close to reality except for the things it doesn't tell you.

In the far country, I met other men and women from good families like mine. Some spoke my language and were outlanders too. Others were native to the far country and welcomed me. Some were young like me; others were older. I made new friends. On good days I bought food and paid for a room at the inn. I pretended everything was fine, but it wasn't really. On bad days, I squandered my wealth on drink to numb my pain and, over time, alcohol became part of my everyday routine.

we had each other, drawing by rob gBeing fairly unskilled and an outlander, I couldn't get much work, but at least I had my share of the estate. Most of my friends were not that fortunate, so I often squandered my wealth on their food and bed. Eventually the money ran out, and there we were, five of us sharing a small room and getting by on what we earned from odd jobs. It wasn't the same as being back home, but we had each other.

There was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.

That, too, is the official story. It’s probably the worst thing my brother could imagine happening to me, a “good religious boy”, and I let him believe it. But there are other ways to make money, ways that he would have considered beyond redemption.

When the famine first hit the land, life became much harder for the five of us. After a few months, two friends went to other places to look for work, and then a third, leaving Amal and me to survive as we could. But as the famine became more severe, there was less and less for anyone.

We finally came to our senses and decided that we could not stay any longer. If we returned to my homeland, one of my father’s neighbours might hire us. And if we tried one of the more distant ones, no one would be any the wiser, considering how much I’d changed in the two years since I left.

After days of walking, with far too little to eat, we came to the outskirts of the region where my father had his lands. The first house we stopped at had no work, but took pity on us and gave us food to eat and water to drink. Refreshed, we continued on from there, taking care to stay on paths where there was no chance of encountering any family members.

old man running, drawing by rob gI didn't think anything of it when I saw an old man in the distance, barely noticing him as we trudged along the edge of a field. And then Amal interrupted me, saying, “Look at that old man running! What’s happening?”

I stopped to look. He was running in our direction. Something was familiar about him and then I realized, “It’s my father!”

Why was he running? Has he seen me? Is he coming to beat me now for asking for my share of the estate? Should we run?

But I cannot move. I stand fixed in one spot as he comes closer, running as best as he can, holding up his robes so they don’t trip him up. He is determinedly heading my way. What will I say? Perhaps I can beg to be one of his hired men.

And as I am pondering this, he arrives and throws his arms around me, panting heavily. O my god. He’s going to have a heart attack, and everyone’s going to blame me for it. Then catching his breath, he kisses me.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

That’s what I said, exactly. And I believed it, especially the last part about not being worthy.

But he doesn't listen. He keeps hugging me, even though he is no longer out of breath, stopping briefly to look me in the eye and say, “You’re home!” And then after another long hug, another brief pause to say, “I missed you!” and back to hugging. At the next pause, he notices Amal and opens his arms wider to embrace both of us.

And then progressively, my father pulls us down a path which – eventually after many twists, turns and forks – will end up at the farm, pausing every hundred feet or so to hug us. I really don’t know what the hell is happening. Why is he pleased to see me? Why does he keep hugging me? It feels like he loves me, but that’s not what they told me before I left.

the way home. drawing by rob g

After we cross the stream, the thought jumps into my head: Maybe they were lying about him. If my father really loves me, then maybe it is just them who hate me, and not him…. Wow. That must be it. There's no other way to explain his delight in me coming home, his disinterest in past wrongs, his extravagant embrace of me, the one who left with his share of the estate and is now returning with nothing -- no, with less than nothing, with weariness and exhaustion, with torn and smelly clothes, with no hope or future.

What literally takes an hour, but feels like we’re meandering through an interstitial world sprinkled with more hugs than I can count, the three of us arrive at the house. When the servants come out, my father says to them,

“Quick! Bring the best robes. Put rings on their fingers and sandals on their feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For these children of mine were dead and are alive again; they were lost and are found.”

And so we begin to celebrate.
An original piece by rob goetze.
Based on  Luke 15:11-32 NIV;
 interspersed with select quotes.


  1. I love it because it makes me think.... it has repeatedly come to my mind since reading it earlier this week. A friend of mine wrote a story of the woman caught in adultery that tells a different side of it... I don't seem to have developed this kind of imagination when reading scripture, but I really appreciate reading what others imagine.

  2. Bryce Rich offers additional insight into the story of the prodigal at http://pressedbutnotcrushed.com/bryce/hearing-stories

  3. Thanks for sharing a link back to my reflection, Rob.

    I enjoyed reading your story. It resonated with me in some ways. I come from a family line in which fathers can be disciplinarian and distant. I was well into my 20s before I realized exactly how much my father loved me. I also know what it means to leave home and go far away. When I graduated college, I moved to Siberia (literally), into the sparse conditions of post-Soviet Russia. Sometimes we need some space to find chosen family and figure out who we are and what's important to us. I too eventually came home...

    Thank you for this wonderful take on this story :-)

    1. Thanks for your kind words and for sharing a bit of your story with us. It took me quite a while too to realize that my father loved me, though there weren't any people telling me anyone telling me otherwise.

      I wonder how many people walk away from God mostly because of having been told by others that He doesn't love them...

      Glad to hear you eventually came home.