I wiped my forehead with an already sopping wet cloth and peered up at the merciless sun. The servants would soon flood the fields to help the workers finish with the final work of the day.
One long week after another, this season concluded another year of labor on my father’s land. Next harvest, Lord willing, I’d oversee workers. I was eager for the reprieve from the dirt under my fingernails and aching back each night as I searched for sleep.
We operated short-staffed but there were never worry lines on my father’s face. Whenever I brought up concerns about business over dinner, his brown eyes softened like the warm butter in a dish on the table.
“God will provide,” he always said.
“Father, you’ve got so much to make up for since… since Jonas left. If he were here working, we would be right on schedule.” My words resembled a creaking wheel under pressure, whining and in need of a break.
“I am not worried,” he said, shrugging. His voice carried a sing-song tone I couldn’t be farther from feeling.
The next day stretched like an unwound string, the end distant. When I summoned a servant as the sun dropped, I heard tambourines in the distance. Curious, I jogged through the field on tired legs to glimpse the house beyond the trees.
“Is that…” I motioned to a nearby servant. “A party?”
What did I miss? What is this? I wondered.
The servant boy lifted his eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh- you didn’t know? Jonas is back!”
My heart stopped beating for a moment and I coughed to spur my breath back into movement.
There’s no way. I thought. That little rat.
Not four months before, he had stripped my father of his portion of the inheritance. He had taken every cent allotted to his name, including cash attributed to assets that my father couldn’t liquidate. I remembered the way my father had reached out for Jonas, explaining how much better his inheritance would be if he waited. Jonas had shaken his head and placed his hand on my father’s back to usher him to the wood box where we both knew he kept the money.
When Jonas had seen me peering in, he smirked without a hint of regret. He had been an idiot to ask for something he didn’t deserve, taking advantage of our father’s benevolence.
My father had packed the coin in a velvet bag and handed it over slowly, all the while knowing it would be spent on rivers of wine and midnight companions. He had taken a step to kiss Jonas’ cheek before dropping the bag in his outstretched hands.
Jonas had been out the door before the gleaming peck dried.
I packed up my work in a basket and trudged to the barn first before daring to go near the festivities. I was not excited like the giggling servants and others who dropped their cares at the door and entered the wafting air of roast meat, burning scented oil, and lively music.
I walked through the fields, closer and closer to the music. Closer to a reality I didn’t want to face.
Soon I saw through the window and thought I would find Jonas smiling like a fool who struck gold.
There he stood; donning the same garment he was wearing four months ago. But now it was torn, tattered, smeared with mud. He limped around but never left my father’s side. He was kissing my father’s rings, bowing his head, and holding his hand over his heart like a wounded warrior. My father couldn’t stop touching Jonas’ shoulders, his young cheeks. They were both wiping tears.
I squinted, unbelieving.
When one glanced out the window, I froze. Then it was both, two sets of eyes the same brown as mine.
I don’t know what I saw in Jonas. But it wasn’t bursting arrogance, a look I had seen thousands of times. I could sense he knew what he deserved and was wrestling with humility for the first time in his life.
My eyes darted away, and I grabbed branches from the tree, snapping them in half in my shaking fists.
It’s not supposed to be this way. He doesn’t deserve to walk on the same ground as my father. He can’t come back and assume nothing has changed.
I paced, kicking the dirt even though my sore feet stung after working all day. But I would have rather stayed in the woods than celebrated. I couldn’t stomach the truth. My father was honoring a son who has brought dishonor to our family. And I couldn’t agree with such injustice.
When footsteps approached, I spun, red-hot faced and ready for war.
It was the wise old man of peace, looking for me.
“Come, son. We are waiting for you.”
I stuttered. “No, I-I-I cannot.”
He held out his hand, motioning, inviting.
“You are doing this for him?” I asked.
“I would do the same for you.”
“No- I would never leave you!” I shouted.
He closed his eyes, sighing. I was not finished ranting.
“Who is out there working for you so the crops bring us profit? Me! Who keeps everything in order so we can make it through another season? Me!”
I paused, allowing tears to peek out of the corners of my eyes. My voice faltered.
“When did you ever… give me a feast of roasted meat and enough wine for half the town?”
The tears broke the surface and trickled down. My father touched my elbows with his large, soft hands and drew me into his gaze.
“All I have is yours and I am glad to share it with you. I hope you never feel deprived of my love and my joy. Today, my joy is to have both of my sons here with me. Come, join us, please.”
I was silent.
He patted my arms and then let them go. I watched him walk back into the home and playfully snap his fingers to the rhythms pulsing through the air.
His joy was complete and mind left wanting.
I thought about his words and our past conversations. Regret crept in as I realized the burning questions I wanted to ask and never did; my idea to expand the business, my dream to open a shop, my desire to one day marry and start my own family.
But I lacked the courage. I simply did as I was told and never asked for more.
How much of my father did I miss by edging along the line of obedience? How much more could we have gained together if I had opened a silent part of my heart and shared it with him?
If only I realized my father was a friend waiting to happen. Maybe every night when he knelt to pray for Jonas to come home, I could have joined him. Maybe I would have brought comfort to his aching heart.
If only I were as tender-spirited as he, I wouldn’t be raging against my self-righteousness out here in the woods while everyone else bends a knee and taps a foot to the music, drink in hand.
I am not my brother.
I am not my father.
But with each step toward the house, I understood them both a little more.
*Author’s Note: This story is a work of fiction based on the biblical parable in Luke 15:11-32.