Who would have thought that I would ever come to this - this messy, dirty, disgusting job? The haughty Gentile who had sent me to work in the fields had only weeks before been fawning on my every word, smiling at just the right times, and giving every impression of being delighted by this nobleman's son.
Nobleman's son. Huh. No longer. Father had no doubt performed the expected funeral months ago. Had he wept at all? Did he feel any sense of loss, or had he been as glad to see me go as I was to leave? Was it a relief to him, to conclude the funeral and be regarded as no longer having two sons but one?
And after wishing death upon my father, blatantly telling him how I hated him, then leaving with one third of his possessions, there was no doubt in my mind that everyone in the village knew the reason for the funeral. It was expected. No Jew could stay in the family after leaving the faith - and such an exit I had made!
Being without family had been of no concern to me for months. Gold makes up for many things - for awhile. What parties I had hosted! The glorious house on the hill...I looked at the distance hills that housed the elite rich of the city. One of those had once been mine. In those decorated chambers I had entertained nearly all of the elite of the city - and many not-so-elite but still-very-beautiful women. The thought brought a blush to my cheeks - the first in many months.
I was brought back to reality by the feeling of mud around my ankles and the way the rope handle of my bucket dug into my palm. Cold rain drops pelted my face every few seconds, as the sky debated whether or not to rain.
The animals around my feet cared not for the rain. They swarmed to the feeding trough and waited for me to dump the contents of the bucket. As I did so, I realized I was making an effort to reach over and between these animals without touching them - an unconscious habit of years, certainly, because of late I had felt no guilt in not only touching but also eating these beasts that I had been taught from childhood to avoid.
The brown carob bean hulls that were rapidly disappearing from the feeding trough tempted my stomach though I knew such husks were indigestible to humans. I sank to my knees between two of those ugly beasts, their cold and fat wet skin brushing against my own filthy and scrawny flesh. It had been two days since I tasted food - my new master was as stingy with nourishment as he was liberal with work. With the lack of food and money that had come upon the area, it was the exceptionally kind master who would feed his servants more than absolutely necessary.
"What have I become?" My stomach tied knots and the moisture on my forehead did little to relieve my faintness. Sickness of heart tried me even more. "Even the day servants who work for my father eat well. Here I am, his own flesh and blood, wanting...this."
It had been so long since I spoke the name, "father." Maybe I had not said it in all the months I had been in this city. As the word slipped over my tongue, I could almost taste it - like figs that have ripened to perfection. I realize what I lacked. What I had lost. What I was.
Tears poured down my face. "I am not worthy to be called my father's son!" I could not speak the cry of my heart. Though I dreaded it, I also longed more than anything at that moment to be back in his house, under his rule, in his arms.
To go back was to face a village full of hateful men and women who knew the truth about me. I would be expected to crawl to kiss my father's shoes. After several weeks - if he would speak to me - I'd be allowed to take up some sort of a semblance of life again. But always stared at. Always frowned upon. I could hear the voices "Look! There goes that worthless son of our good friend. Puh! The dog!"
Go back? Had I actually thought the words? Go back?
To what? What was there for me? If I wanted scorn and rejections, I could find that here. What was it I wanted?
I knew what I wanted. More than the deepest hunger of my belly, I longed for my father. To be near him. Oh how long it had been since I had heard his voice!
Suddenly, nothing else mattered. "I will go and beg him to take me as a hired servant. I will eat, at least, and be near the sound of his voice. Oh, if he will only take me!" I resolved to throw myself at his feet - kiss them, if he would let me - and beg him with all the strength left in me to hire me. Even a cursed life near him was better than this lonesome agony far away.
I staggered to my unsteady feet and headed toward the nearby road.
The rain clouds above drifted off to bless some other land with their life-giving water.
The old man strode slowly from his large house toward the barn, with the dignified walk worthy of a nobleman. Though he carried himself well, and his weathered face showed wisdom and goodness, his eyes were sad. His servants that stood in various places, behind him in the doorway of the house, or at work with animals nearby, watched him knowingly. His eyes ever turned toward the road, as they had every day for months, as if hoping to see something that wasn't there. Always the road was empty.
But not this day. Not this morning. This morning there was something there. A lone figure, staggering toward the farm.
Without a backward glance, the nobleman pulled up his long robes and ran - an old dignified nobleman running! Sure that he had taken leave of his senses, half a dozen servants sprinted after him.
Every step I took hurt my feet, and with every step my heart hung lower. What would he say? I knew I was nearing the farm, but I could not look up. Not yet. Oh, what would he say? Would he lower himself to say anything at all? How long would it be before he would allow me to speak to him?
Footsteps - running footsteps - on the road ahead of me caused me to look up.
"No. It isn't possible."
It was possible. He was running to me! I had never seen him run. Overcome with emotion, at the thought of seeing him at long last, I crumpled in the dirt road.
His shadow fell across me, shielding the back of my head from the hot sun. In an instant he was down beside me, his old but powerful arms around my shoulders, his mouth planting kisses on my neck. I felt hot tears on my neck as well.
He was crying.
I began to weep, and struggled to speak. "Father...Father...I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son..."
He was paying no attention to my words. He only folded me closer. "My son! My son!" He sobbed. "You are home! You are alive again." He rocked back and forth as we sat in the road. I had the strange feeling that he was giddy with joy.
Joy? Over me?
The servants arrived, shocked into silence at the scene before them.
"Go - " Father turned to them, speaking through his tears "Fetch the robe - my best one - and my signet ring, and slaughter the fatted calf. He is home! We will celebrate!"
"Father," I stammered, even as they ran to do his bidding. "My sins -"
"Hush." He laid a calloused hand over my mouth gently. "You are my son. And you are home."
Realizing what he was offering me - pouring on me - I suddenly could not contain my joy.
I was home.
I couldn't help writing down this scene that fills my mind. Have you been a son far from home? Have you felt the sting of sin? Have you felt the wonder of the Father's loving embrace? You can't have one without the other. Have you heard Him weep over you?
The wonder of it all overwhelms me.