The father stood outside the door
In day’s last reaching shadow.
The fig tree just beyond was more
than tired, drooping low.
All he had been praying for
had still not come to pass,
and there was no way to ignore
his son did not have long to last.
Then a servant cried out, “Look!”
with something in his voice:
something in the way it shook
that made the father’s heart rejoice.
The servant pointed down the road
and watched his master run
past fields where still his eldest hoed
to a figure black against the sun.
The servant watched in wonder
and wished that he could hear
what words could heal the sunder
and bring the youngest near.
Then the bewildered eldest beckoned
when he heard the music start
and he told him that the second
son had regained his father’s heart.
But angry tears, withheld so long,
now wet the eldest’s eyes.
His sense of pride knew it was wrong
for sin to win the prize.
To hear of his father running
was more than he could bear -
he’d work alone, and not go in,
if he was the only one who cared.
And when his father came to treat,
the eldest son was galled,
and flung the offer at his feet
then went to bed appalled.
The father and his youngest silent
sat together, grinning like a fool.
They both were tired, utterly spent,
but at rest in the morning cool.
There lay remnants of a feast -
the others still asleep.
This son, so recently deceased,
had no tears left to weep
that morning after his return,
with restoration just begun.
He knew an offering of praise would burn
so he spoke into the rising sun.
“I’ll tell you, Father, and will not spare myself -
you already know the whole.
My story, from my lips, will show you as yourself:
How you spoke into my soul
when I needed such forgiveness
and yet could not even ask.
You were thinking of largesse
when I was thinking tasks.
This is all before I knew that neither life
nor death, nor present, nor past,
nor my best efforts, nor my worst strife,
could separate me from a love that lasts.
I’ll tell you how I felt rebelling,
like escaping from my cell -
the temptations were compelling
and are shameful now to tell.
‘At last!’ – I thought – ‘wings beneath my feet,
like the triumphs of a king.
Freedom’s riches smell so sweet:
I can buy anything.
I know just where to go -
far enough away to cease
to meet my friends, who know
my father’s not deceased.’
So any ties I had, I shed:
I changed my name,
and sold my family name for bread,
and taught myself to be the same
as the people living there.
And I was rich! – too rich to think
that any debts I had to bear
would be the weights that made me sink.
I was stunned when I was found
not in robes or spacious halls,
but with the pigs, on the ground
with livestock, learning calls
for unclean beasts I could not eat.
My shame was black – none ventured near
lest it be them I cursed and beat.
Deep in anger, I would not hear
any words about a father searching -
but I had not been hungry yet.
All the filth that was my living,
and yet the hunger broke me. I let
the farmer feed me with the pigs;
but he knew their worth, and mine,
and did not toss a single fig
to a fallen boy who gave no sign
of ever being able to repay.
I became too weak to leave,
and at the evening of some countless day,
my death I could perceive.
I did not expect to wake.
By some miracle of grace,
every bone and muscle quaked
and I turned my filthy face
towards home. Morning broke
red but clear, and I thought I knew
your kindness would revoke
me as a son, but give me what grew
on the edges of your fields.
To be a hired hand might serve
to be the saving shield
from all the wrath I so deserved.
If my brother had your ear, I might
be scorned, unable to return.
He warned me the very night
I left – now my face he’d surely spurn.
You had every right to do the same.
You might not have even shown me -
so thin, and giving a different name.
If my mother lived, you could not show me -
I could not have borne the shame.
Still I reversed the steps I’d taken,
now filthy, hungry, lame,
as home’s gates gently beckoned
to my broken weary frame.
The speech I’d been rehearsing
that laid aside my claim
you cut off with no cursing
nor any words of blame.
You kissed me as your child,
though I had wished you dead;
you should have me reviled,
but killed your best to have me fed.
You gave to me a second ring:
It’s life to me as blood.
I saw how love’s slow suffering
never left me when it should.
Let love be held in honor,
and grace the victor strong,
when mercy from my Father
makes healing it’s sweet song.’”
With his eldest brother listening,
the youngest’s fear had ceased.
The father offered his thanksgiving
and prayed love to increase.
The elder brother’s longing
urged his pride to be released.
He sat beside his father,
his face turned toward the east.
There was silence in the morning
where family dwelt at peace.