as retold by Tanja Cilia
“Yes, my son?”
“I was thinking, Dad… I’m sick and tired of living in this house, being the younger brother, I mean. I want to see the world; I want to be someone, not just a small fish in a small pond…”
“Oh, my son, what are you saying? These words of yours are breaking my heart. Why do you want to leave me? Have I not always taken care of you, and given you all that you need, and all that you want? You have never been without nice clothes and good food. I always let you bring your friends over, and yes, I am strict but loving…”
“Oh, papa, you do not understand. I have to play second fiddle to my brother, and he is always telling me that you love him more because he is your Firstborn. I want the money I would have gotten after you died, as my inheritance. I want to make it in the Great Big World, not stay cooped up forever in this tiny town…”
And the argument went on and on, day in, day out. Finally, the father consented, against his better judgment, to give his younger son a bag full of money and sent him on his way. “Be careful, my son!” he said, as he wiped a tear or two on the long sleeves of his robe.
“Thank you dad! I shall be thinking of you when I am far away. I want you to know that I will make the family name known around the world… I will become famous, and I will never forget you!”
So off went the younger son. His father watched him until he was a spot in the distance, and then broke down, sobbing.
The young man had never seen so much money at once, and so he did not know how to handle it properly. He spent and spent, and bought stuff for people whom he did not even know. So of course, these became his “friends.”
He dressed himself in expensive clothes, and bought the best foods and the finest perfumes and shoes for himself – and for those who flattered him.
One day, he could not hear the jingling of money in his bag any more. He put in his hand… and drew out one solitary coin. He looked at it sadly – and suddenly noticed that he was all alone – everyone had slunk away. They did not want to be with a loser, so he couldn’t even ask for pay-back to tide him over. He sold all his fine things in order to eat, but soon even those were gone. For the first time in his life he had to get a proper job.
But since he was – or at least he used to be – a rich kid, he had never had to work for a living, and so he did not know how to do anything. The only job he could find was taking care of pigs. Oh, how they stank! Oh, what bad manners they had. They jostled, they fought, and they even knew when he was going to steal a carob pod from their trough, because they head-butted him out of the way. But at least he got to sleep in the smelly barn.
He began to dream – when he was asleep, but more so when he was awake – of the fine time he had when he was at home. He remembered the silk clothes and compared them to his current sackcloth ones. He remembered the fine foods and compared them to the nasty-smelling swill of the pigs, some of which he nipped for himself in order to avoid starving to death.
Finally, he could take it no more. He thought again about his father and his home. The servants at his father’s house were well taken care of. They had comfortable beds and ate good food. Suddenly, he had a thought. “I will arise and go to my Father,” he said. “I will tell him to keep me, not as a son, but as a humble servant, because I deserve no more than that.” But at least the servants in my father’s house have proper food and proper clothes….
So the Prodigal Son began his journey home. It was many miles away, and he had to walk because he could not afford a donkey. He was tired, sweaty, and hungry, but he walked on and on and on, in a hurry to see his beloved father again. But the closer he came to the borders of the town, the more ashamed he felt. He kept off the roads and ducked behind bushes when travelers passed by. He wondered in anguish what sort of greeting he would receive at home.
Finally, he reached a place he recognized and he heard a shout! His father was actually running out from the city gates toward him. How embarrassed he was! He felt like one of the pigs he used to tend; unwashed and smelly, with matted hair and dirt caked under his fingernails.
But, incredibly, his father did not notice any of this – all he saw was a son that had been lost, but was found. The young man fell to his knees and apologized, and instead of being angry his father told the servants (who were keeping their distance – not out of respect but because of the smell!) to prepare a barbecue and kill the fatted calf! They were ordered to bring the father’s robe and put it on the boy, to get him shoes because he was barefooted. They put a ring on his hand, and prepared him a bath. Soon, a great celebration was in full swing.
The elder brother heard the noise of the party, and saw people dancing. He was livid. He went to his father and complained bitterly that he had never been allowed to throw a party for his friends, and yet, for this wastrel, the father had killed the fatted calf. The big brother did not want to go to the party, because he was angry and jealous.
But the father laid a hand gently upon his older son’s arm and said, “My firstborn, you only had to ask me, but you never did. All that I have is yours! Come, now, let us be happy because your brother has returned. He was dead, but now he lives! He was lost, but now he is home.”