The Prodigal Father
The Story of the Prodigal Son
The Demand"Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me," said Jude as he stood sternly before his father in the failing sunlight. He had never spoken to his father in this way, but he had made up his mind the night before, with the encouragement of his friends, to do so. It was the only way to get what belonged to him now while he could enjoy it. "Why should you wait until you're an old man," his friends asked. "Yes, you'll be too old to enjoy it or your brother may take it all after your father passes," they all agreed.
Old Abbas looked up slowly taking in the full frame of his youngest son. He loved Jude and Reuben, Jude's older brother, equally. Yet there was something about Jude that made his heart leap and sing. Maybe it was his youth, his exuberance, or his smile that reminded him so much of Jude's mother who had passed away nearly 10 years ago.
"I'm sorry son, what did you say," said Abbas. "I was deep in prayer and didn't even hear you approach. What can I do for you?"
Jude looked into the old man's deep, dark, penetrating eyes, and felt his will begin to tremble. Those eyes always seemed to be looking into you rather than at you. It was as if he were reading the story of your soul or the thoughts of your mind just as they were forming. The voice of his friend, Saul, echoed in his mind from the night before and he began again, "I want my share of your wealth, my inheritance, now when I am young, so I can enjoy it." The words that sounded so strong and reasonable the night before under the influence of good wine fell limp into the dust at the feet of his father.
Abbas continued to hold Jude's gaze. Jude felt like his father was strolling leisurely through his mind looking for something or perhaps leaving something.
"Sit down beside me my son," said Abbas as he slowly closed his eyes and lowered his head. Not wanting to upset the old man, Jude did as his father asked, seating himself in the dirt at his feet.
"Do you wish I were dead, Jude?," Abbas said directly. "Do you wish I were now walking with our Lord and God in paradise so that you may have what rightly belongs to you?"
The young man was startled, not ready for such a question. "No father, why would you say such a thing? May your Lord and God give you a long life," answered Jude firmly.
He was embarrassed that he had even approached the subject but his embarrassment gave way to anger as he waited on his father's response. After all, wasn't that what he was in fact saying, that he wished his father were gone? The old man had amassed all this wealth and for what, to sit by his tent day in and day out fingering beads and studying fairy tales? He could have lavish feasts, nicer tents, and concubines but instead he gave to the poor and paid his servants far too much. Saul was right, "his father was wasteful and Jude needed to get his inheritance before it was all gone."
The change in wording was not lost on his father. "So, you no longer believe, my son?," he said, almost whispering the words as though he were in agony.
His blood began to rise and flood Jude's mind, "I no longer believe in the stories of old, in fairy tales of parting seas or magic bread. I no longer believe in a God who rescues his people. If such a being exists, why didn't he rescue my mother? Why did he allow your own flesh and blood to destroy your wife even before the vile little creature saw the light of day or drew a breath!" Jude rose quickly to his feet, "no, father, I no longer believe in your God."
The old man watched intently as his son wrestled with the thoughts inside his head. A great battle raged inside the young man. He walked back and forth in the twilight before his father's tent kicking up little clouds of dust. The anguish was palpable. Abbas sat quietly waiting for Jude to finish this interior war. He prayed for the better Jude to win the struggle.
"I love you father," Jude began, "but you are wasteful. You could do so much more with your wealth. You could double the size of the flock in a year but you give all your earnings to the poor and the hired help."
Abbas looked up at Jude but Jude turned away, "is that what you are planning to do with your share, my son. Are you going to invest it, purchase a flock of your own? Take some of my flock then. I give them to you to start your venture."
Jude stopped in his tracks and turned on the old man. Abbas could see the dust settling upon Jude's sandals. The first stars of the evening twinkled in the purplish-black sea above Jude's rugged frame and curly hair. "I don't want your flock and what I do with my money is my business," Jude said through clenched teeth. "If you being dead is what it takes to get my share, then fine, you are dead to me. I'll collect my share of the inheritance in three days. Good night, Abbas."
The father watched as Jude made his way through the flocks and into the darkness. He heard him call out over the field for his friend, Saul. Abbas entered his tent and prepared for sleep. In the distance he could hear the laughter of his beautiful but lost son. He fell asleep with prayers of blessing for Jude upon his lips.
The Collection“Do you really want to do this, my Lord?," asked Baruch directly. “Send the young man away with a thrashing and not one third of your entire estate!”
The old man looked kindly on his secretary, “he is my son, Baruch. Do you think a thrashing would knock sense into him or push him far away from me? No, give him all he asks for and perhaps a little more if you can find it.”
Though twenty years his junior, Baruch was Abbas’ secretary and trusted advisor. The patriarch always allowed him to speak freely to him in private and attached a great deal of weight to his counsels. But in this case Abbas’ mind was made up. He trusted that the Lord would provide for both he and his son in due time.
“Baruch, thank you for your devoted service and I know you only say these things out of love for me, with no thought to your own commission but I trust that our Lord and God will do all he can for Jude,” the old man said firmly as he sat in the tent, eyes closed, caressing his long beard.
Outside the tent foot falls of half a dozen men could be heard approaching the patriarch’s spacious tent. Their shadows could be seen as they stopped just outside the entry.
“Permission to enter, my Lord,” came a voice from outside the tent.
Abbas opened his eyes and rose, “you may enter, my son.”
A tall silhouette entered the tent and advanced toward the old man. Baruch watched in amazement as the two men embraced. To him it was as if young Abbas was greeting the now much older Abbas. The men were mirror images of one another yet one reflection was young and vibrant while the other gave way to the passing of time.
“Ah, Reuben, my son, come sit with me. You were not expected back with the flocks for another two weeks,” said Abbas as he lowered himself onto his mat. “Is everything okay, my son? Are the flocks and servants well?”
Reuben was a rugged man in his late 30’s. Dark, curly hair fell almost to his broad shoulders and his black beard hid the sharp, high cheek bones, a gift from his mother. His bright smile was irresistible to any woman he looked upon and his dark brown, almost black eyes, seemed to pierce the very soul of everyone he encountered.
Those dark eyes turned from his father toward Baruch who at that moment gave Reuben a slight nod. Baruch had secretly sent for Reuben hoping that he, of all people, could make Abbas see the folly of giving away so much to the ungrateful, selfish Jude. Reuben would never reveal his source to his father. Baruch need not worry about that.
Reuben’s gaze returned to his father, “all is well with me, the flock, and the servants, father. I alone have returned, leaving the flocks to graze on the Eastern border. How are things with you my father? May the Lord our God bless you and keep you forever!”
Abbas smiled at the young man, his younger mirror image. He uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving that Reuben had kept the faith in the one true God.
“I am well, Reuben,” said Abbas with a genuine smile, “but I have a feeling you are not here merely to check on my well-being. No, a bird has carried a message to you from the nest and you have returned to see if it is true.”
Abbas turned and looked at Baruch who stared blankly at the scrolls before him pretending not to notice the conversation nor the weight of the old man’s gaze. Baruch was grateful for the darkness of the tent as his cheeks began to redden.
“You speak truly, a word of concern has traveled many miles to my ears,” said the young man calmly. “I wanted to hear it from your lips though, father.”
Abbas smiled, “it is true Reuben. I have decided to honor Jude’s request for his inheritance. What good will it do to deny him?”
Reuben shifted his legs slightly on his mat and sat more erect. “Father, I love you but this seems like folly. Even the ewe doesn’t submit to every request for milk from the lamb. It helps the lamb grow and learn to forage on her own. Do you think this will help Jude to grow, to mature?”
“Jude is no longer a lamb,” began Abbas, “he is a man and am I not free to do with my property what I wish?”
“That’s right, brother, I’m not a lamb,” came a voice from outside the tent. Jude moved the flap and entered unbidden with Saul at his side. “I am not a lamb, nor am I asking for milk. I only want what father had intended to give me anyway.”
Reuben jumped to his feet and resisted the urge to step toward his younger brother. “Little brother,” the words seethed out from his clenched jaw, “you are mad! What could possibly posses you to ask for such a thing? Has the love of wine, pretty birds, and all that glitters destroyed your mind or has this snake at your side done so with his forked tongue.”
Saul slowly moved his hand to the hilt of his sword. Luckily for him, Jude was standing between Saul and Abbas or such a gesture, in full view of Abbas, would have been cause for banishment if not death. Reuben stood motionless staring at Saul. The corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile revealing the white of his teeth. Saul shuttered and moved his hand away from his sword.
“My sons,” began Abbas as he fingered his loop of wooden beads, “my mind is at peace with what Jude has requested. I will honor it and pray that he profits from all he does.”
“I am not at peace,” blurted out the secretary as he rounded his corner table filled with quills, ink bottles, and scrolls. “I am not at peace at all, Jude.” Baruch stood toe-to-toe with the young man. Jude could feel his wrath beginning to rise. “You are not only taking your portion, Jude. Do you not realize that in order for your father to ‘give you what belongs to you’,” the secretary said this with so much sarcasm that even Abbas had to restrain a smile. “Do you not realize that entire flocks of sheep must be sold? Do you further realize that if there are no sheep, we cannot pay the shepherds? Flocks, shepherds, perhaps even land must be sold off for your selfish request.”
“That is quite enough, Baruch,” said the old man still fingering his beads. “What Jude has requested, I will honor as I have said.”
Jude stared hard at the secretary who was still so close he could feel the heat of his anger upon his skin in the cool of the tent. Baruch took one step back, bowed toward Abbas, then toward Reuben and then excused himself from the family affair.
“I too must go, Father,” said Reuben knowing his father’s word was final. “I have many responsibilities to attend to on both the Eastern and Northern boarder. I will also being inquiring about work for those who will be displaced.” Reuben too turned toward Abbas and bowed. As he moved toward the exit he looked hard into Jude’s face. Jude’s stomach turned as he watched murderous rage flash across Reuben’s countenance. Reuben continued his exit but as he passed Jude he slammed his shoulder hard into Jude, knocking him off balance. Saul caught the young man and set him upright as he watched Reuben exit the tent.
“Leave us,” Abbas said into the nearly empty, silent tent. Saul knew the words for meant for him. He hesitated, wondering if Reuben might be waiting just outside in ambush.
“Go!,” said the old man raising his voice slightly.
Saul turned quickly and left the tent neither bowing nor contesting.
As Abbas began to rise he said, “do not speak my son. I ask only that you embrace me and know that I love you.” With that the old man advanced and embraced Jude before he could think of resisting. The old man held him close and rested his greying head upon Jude’s shoulder, “I love you my son and I shall never stop loving you. Go, and may our Lord and God lead you along the path wherever it may go. Speak not, go.”
The old man released Jude and returned to his mat. Abbas bowed his head and suppressed the desire to cry as he continued to wear down the ancient string of olive-wood beads. Jude remained transfixed as if a dream. He stood there for a long time looking at the old man sitting on the floor with his bowed head.
He began to question his motives when something scraped across the outside of the tent wall. This faint scratch was followed by a rapid succession of three more scratches. It was Saul. They had used this signal numerous times before when it was time to make a speedy retreat from a poorly placed bet or a “pretty bird’s” tent. Jude continued to look upon the old man. The three quick scratches came again.
“You should go, Jude,” said the old man on the floor. His voice was still warm but distant. “Go before that fool Saul scratches a hole in my tent! Your letters are there on Baruch’s table. All is in order. Go in peace my son. May God be with you.”
Anger welled up deep inside Jude and boiled over into rage. His father’s kindness was almost too much to bear. He had expected a fight but not this. Saul told him that if his father didn’t fight him on this request it was only a further sign of his weakness of mind. This weakness of mind would ruin the old man and leave Jude penniless, homeless, and no better than a beggar or a slave.
Jude bounded to the secretary’s table and found his letters. He placed them into the folds of his cloak and with one swift move turned the table on it’s side scattering quills, bottles, and scrolls upon the dirt floor.
“You are fool Abbas and am willing to bet all that I now hold that you will squander all that is left before long on the fools you have working for you,” spat Jude as he looked at the ink spilling across parchments and into the dirt. “Your God has never been with me and I care not for his company.” With that Jude turned his back toward the old man and left the tent to join Saul.
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