Sunday, 10 March 2013

A Mother's Tale

I was struck by a minor dilemma this week when preparing for worship: how do you combine the Parable of the Prodigal Son - essentially a tale of a father & two son - with Mother's Day? My solution was to try and look at that story, so well-known in Christian lore, from the mother's perspective - not easy for a bloke!

The response to what I came up with has been such that I felt it would be right for me to share it on this forum. Don't be shy at letting me know what you think: does it speak to you? Does it shine new light on an old story? Or is it just fanciful nonsense?

A Mother's Tale

I suppose our family is much the same as many others – there are times when everything is peace and calm and love and understanding; and then there are the normal days! Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love my two boys: it’s just there are moments when it seems they can’t bear to be on the same planet as each other, never mind the same room!

Simon – he’s the elder of the two – he’s always been the conscientious one, you know: takes being the ‘first-born’ very seriously. As soon as he could he went off to agricultural college, so that he’d know how to run the farm properly – did well too; got his head down and studied hard – not really a natural student, but came away with a good qualification. And Jo & I were really proud of him.

Josh, now he’s a different sort altogether: headstrong, adventurous, lippy, winds his dad and his brother up all the time. In a way I blame myself: he was a bit of a surprise, shall we say, and it wasn’t an easy pregnancy, and we thought we’d lost him at one stage, but it all worked out in the end. But I think we spoiled him a bit, you know, what with being the ‘baby’ of the family – there’s 8 years between him and Simon, you know.

I’ll never forget that evening. Josh had just turned 17; we were sat round the dinner table enjoying a nice bit of lamb, and Josh turned to Jo and asked him “What’s my share of the farm worth?” Well, Jo was a little taken aback, and Simon just glared at him over the peas. My first thought was whether he’d got himself into trouble, you know, and needed a little help. “Why do you ask, son?” said Jo. “Well, to be honest” he said, “I’m sick of life here. I want to get out and see the world, experience things, taste things, you know. I don’t want to be stuck here all my life, and to be frank I can’t wait for you to die before I can enjoy all this. So, give me my share now.” Simon stood up and shouted: “How dare you talk to Dad like that!” and there was a lot of other things said that I don’t want to repeat, and they both stormed out with much door-slamming. When they’d gone, Jo & I just sat there: I was aching inside, and I knew Jo was upset because he didn’t say a word.

The next day Jo got up early and went into town. He was gone ages, but when he came back he called Josh in and gave him a large envelope. “You know that Simon gets twice as much as you, because he’s the elder, don’t you? Well, here’s ⅓ of what this place is worth: take it, but that’s it – there’s no more.” And with that he turned and left the room. Josh looked at the envelope for a few seconds, then opened it, flicked through the notes and smiled that cheeky smile of his. Then he was off up to his room, and half an hour later, with his rucksack on his back, he was away through the door with nothing more than a “See ya!” as he left.

On the surface life went on much as before after that, except that it was noticeably quieter. We didn’t hear anything from Josh directly, though some neighbours who’d been over to the city said that they thought they’d seen him, a little worse for wear shall we say, with a rowdy group the other week. I do wish he’d just let us know he’s OK. But I’ve noticed a change in Jo since Josh left: he seems a lot quieter in himself, and in an evening he’s taken to going off by himself for a walk down the lane towards the main road. Most evenings he just stands at the end of the track, staring down the road. Simon just gets on with things: doesn’t seem to miss his brother at all; in fact I’ve even heard him saying to some of the farm-hands “Good riddance to him!” Breaks my heart to hear him say things like that, but what can you do?

It’s been months now since we’ve heard anything. We occasionally talk with those who go to the city, but no-one seems to have seen or heard from him. Oh, why doesn’t he just come home? I’m sure we can sort things out. Jo still goes for his evening walks, but always seems a little sadder when he comes home.

I can’t believe it! I never thought I’d see this day! It’s Josh: he’s home! Jo had gone out as usual this evening, and it seems that he’d spotted this dishevelled character coming along the road – he almost smelled him before he saw him! Jo’d turned away, but something made him look again at him, and then he recognised him. He looks like he’s hardly eaten for weeks; unshaven and unwashed, but that didn’t stop Jo: he ran up to him and threw his arms round him and wouldn’t let him go for ages. When he did let go, Josh just collapsed at his feet in tears. Then he told Jo what had happened to him since he’d left us: how he’d gone off to the city and partied; made lots of new friends, until the money had run out; and then he’d struggled to get a job and ended up back on a farm, but this time looking after pigs of all things. The pay was more or less nonexistent, and he ended up sleeping in the sty, he was so desperate! He even thought about eating the pig-swill, he was so hungry at times! Oh, my poor boy!

Then, he said, one night he started thinking: “Even the farm-hands at home do better than this. I can’t go on living in this way: I’m going to have to swallow my pride and go home, ask dad if he’ll take me on as a farm-hand.” So he upped and set off home.

“We’re having none of that!” Jo said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done: you’re my son and nothing is ever going to change that. Work as a farm-hand, indeed!” The he called me over and told me to prepare that calf we’ve been fattening up: we’re going to have the biggest party there’s ever been! I say, OK, but first things first: let’s get this boy in a nice hot bath and get him some clean clothes.

Naturally Simon heard all the commotion and wanted to know what was going on. When I told him he was furious and stormed off to the barn by himself. Jo told me to leave him be; he’d have a word with him later. For now, let’s celebrate! Josh’s back!

Half way through the night Simon still hadn’t shown his face, so Jo went to find him. He was still behind the barn, chuntering to himself. Jo said to me later that he’d never seen him so angry. “I’ve stuck by you and mum through thick and thin”, he said, “even through that winter when we got foot & mouth and we could’ve lost everything. And what thanks do I get, eh? You’ve never once told me to invite my mates round for a party. And this waste of space of a son of yours” – he couldn’t even bring himself to call Josh his brother – “he comes back after blowing his inheritance on wine, women & song, and this happens! It’s just not fair, dad!”

Jo didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then he just said softly: “Simon, I’ve never been good at talking about feelings: I usually leave that to your mother. But we’re so grateful that you’ve been here all this time, especially when things were tough, and you know that this is all yours when we’ve gone. Nothing can take that away from you. But you also know that your mum & I have been worried sick about Josh since he left us; we didn’t even know until today whether he was alive or dead. But now we know: our son…your brother… is alive! We can’t help but want to celebrate. If not for Josh, then come in for me and your mother.”

And you know: that was the best Mother’s Day we ever had.