The Two Brothers
One was coming, the other going—two brothers passing in the night. Two brothers—one lost, the other resentful…
that’s not quite right,
both lost, both resentful, truth be told.
The younger—resents his status as the junior member of the family, destined for a limited inheritance
—and he tests his father’s graces, taking that which does not belong to him
—asking for inheritance, which can only be offered after his father’s death
—inheritance, the majority of which is rightfully his brothers.
And he leaves, what a scandal,
going down to Egypt,
off to Babylon,
into the big city.
He takes on strange customs, spends not only his money there—but his identity too.
Gives it away in gobs as he lives the “good” life—a life his father never would understand, or so he thinks.
He drains that bank account, and with it his very life force, vitality, and soul.
Until he finds himself in the gutter
—the fine clothing he bought smeared with the muck of the street,
the seal of his house pawned long ago for a simple meal, or maybe a fix,
his sandals split with walking aimlessly about
—his stomach, like so many of those around him there in the gutter of life
—rumbling with hunger.
He works as a foreign laborer
—paid under the table, paid less than a citizen of that country.
He works with pigs, demeaning himself still further
and now unclean to the hilt.
So empty he’d eat the food of creatures to be turned into unclean food.
He begs, there far off
—but no one gave him anything.
Isn’t it sad, in time of famine he has no family to take him in.
In time of want, no one wants him.
He’s an outsider,
of the wrong background,
from the wrong country,
a foreigner participating in the vices of their country,
the moral underground of their nation.
No one gave him anything—and he is dying of hunger.
And, as he watches the pigs snorting in that slop, abandoned by everyone in the society he’s chosen to associate with,
the one he’s immigrated to and thrown all his money at,
only to be spit back out
—in the mess of all that, he remembers.
He remembers he was a son,
He think maybe he could be again…
at least a hired hand…
no more honored at home than there,
but at least he’d be home…
home, where someone might give him something. Maybe the better beasts of the soul might pull compassion out of a people from the same country…
maybe a poor man would be honored at home, if not abroad.
And so he goes, the soles of his sandals outside matching the disposition of his soul inside
—so threadbare they are useless.
He prepares his pitch—asking his father for a job, after taking half the money,
kinda humiliating right?
—the poor become great at pitches, not because they’re more crafty than anyone else, but because it is a matter of life and death.
But thanks be to God, the pitch, the humiliating ask, dies in his mouth.
His father runs… like a Scotsman in a kilt
—all rather unseemly
—he runs, and he kisses him, calling him back into the family!
He clothes him
—covering his shame,
the father shaming himself to spare his child suffering!
Stained clothing replaced,
family sigil returned to his ring finger,
sole of sandal and soul of son, returned.
The father shamed a second time
—the first at his youngest son’s leaving,
the second at his return.
But no matter, his child who was dead, is alive.
His son who sold himself into slavery, has become a son again
—how can that not be celebrated?
--how can he not be returned to the community with a party?
The elder son though, thinks differently.
He was undercut by the younger from the start, his property properly stolen by that son of a…
son of his father.
His younger brother had made him
to be Esau,
to be Ishmael,
to be the dispossessed older son,
to loose his inheritance,
to diminish the family…
And in response he soldiers on, that first son,
each step with the plow,
each time he breaks up the hard ground…
each longing look his father makes, off toward that foreign land…
it not only breaks his heart,
it breeds resentment
it poisons his mind.
Why don’t you look at me, Dad?
Why don’t you long for me, Dad?
Look, Dad, I’m doing the work he wouldn’t do!
He doesn’t understand what his brother
—that son of his father
—is going through,
he doesn’t know what it is like to be lost…
or maybe he does…
for he is loosing his connection to his father too…
the resentment of staying, can slaughter the soul.
Staying and slaving away, doing those things that need to be done
—those proper things that sons do. Working the land he will one day inherit… working when it was given, given! to the second son.
Working, like a slave.
Working for a wage
a hired hand on his own land.
Oh, resentment can lose you just as readily as desolate living.
Shackled to responsibilities,
being the good son,
being the one who gets things done
—it can sour the soul and make you believe you’re earning that love,
buying that inheritance,
it can make you insist something in yours, as fully and wrongly and gratuitously as the younger son insisted that half of the inheritance was his.
This molders in his chest,
doing it right,
doing it right,
doing it right,
until he is ripe for that moment when song sweeps out into the field.
A party. Perhaps for me? For all I’ve done.
And he gets there. Oh, God, he gets there, socked in the stomach by the slave who announces the happy return of that… other son.
He balkes, he refuses the feast…
Yet another insult for his father, the host
having to leave his guests to salve the soul of a sulking son.
The guests watch from afar as the older son rips into him:
He wanted you dead and you gave him my inheritance and sent him off whoring.
I’ve toiled for all I have,
I’ve never asked for anything…
I’ve never got a party like this,
I’ve never broken the rules,
But that sinner!
That son of yours, gets it all.
You pour out yourself for him.
You give him chance after chance…
but it feels like I only got one!
And I had to work for it!
His father responds:
You’re my son. He’s my son. I gave him everything he asked for, and gave you everything you asked for.
You’ve stayed here, with me. Look at the life you’ve had, that you live, with me. Be thankful for that, see it for what it is, the bounty of it!
As for your brother. He was lost. He was dead to us. He’s returned to us. He’s been found.