Summary: In this monologue, the father of the two sons in the famous parable speaks.
Style: Dramatic. Duration:12min
Scripture: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
Sons. My two confounding sons. They are my blessing and my curse. They are my life.
Those boys could not have been more different than if they had had two different fathers. But I was father to them both. And as I will tell you, they gave me my share of grief and bewilderment.
My older son, Samuel, he was the one who puzzled me in the end. He disappointed me more than his younger brother. But the younger one, Philip, he gave me more grey hairs than any father deserved.
Samuel, he was always in control of things. Or at least he felt he should be. Sometimes I think he thought he was the father of the family. He was never disrespectful of me. Don't get me wrong. But the tone in his voice - well, you got the feeling he thought his old man was a fool. Kind of superior talking, if you know what I mean.
And when he talked to his brother... Not with him, mind you, but to him, there was no mincing words. Philip, what do you think you are doing? Stop lazing around, pick up your things. Do what your mother asked you to do. Why don't you go to synagogue this morning? God is not fooled, Philip. You have no respect for anything, not our father. Not our mother. Not even God. Philip, you will amount to nothing in this world if you don't straighten up.' I tell you, that boy was righteous. He was so straight-laced and god-fearing I think even God sat up when Samuel got out of bed.
Martha, my good woman, she does us all proud. She works hard, is kind to the servants, can cook like crazy and has those knowing eyes that look right into your soul. But she is not stern. She knows how to let go and laugh with the good ones. Me, I have worked hard all my life, sacrificed so much for my family, put in more hours than were good for me, but we have prospered. I have a special seat in the synagogue. People respect me. They call out to me in the streets. And Samuel, well, he works so hard he puts the rest of us to shame.
And then there was Philip. Where he came from, I don't know. Martha tells me he is ours. I have chosen to believe her, but sometimes I really wonder. To put it as tactfully as possible, Philip was born with a free spirit. For him there were no rules, only general guidelines.
He was always into mischief, even as a baby. Crawling under cupboards. Hiding on us at dusk until we went crazy trying to find him. And coming out, giggling and laughing and teasing us. Running away from his chores instead of to them. Playing with his friends instead of doing his school work. Philip lived to explore life, and never wanted to be contained by it.
Samuel spent the first twenty years of his life getting red in the face at Philip, holding his breath and then exploding with rage. He simply could not understand his younger brother.
Philip was not really trouble, though. He was playful as a kitten. Inquisitive. But never destructive. And I must admit he was more likeable than his somber big brother. There were days when I would have rather gone for a walk in the pasture with Philip than go to synagogue with Samuel and Martha. Philip made me feel free inside. Samuel made me nervous.
Something in Philip was me. I know that. In spite of how proper and respectable you are, there is a little kitten inside that wants to unravel the thing you just knitted. To play with the yarn instead of 'making something useful.'
My neighbor, Joshua, is a wise man and a good friend. And his wife, Esther, now there is a woman who knows things. How many times have Martha and I gone there on a night to talk things over. When the boys were in bed, after they had spent the day fighting with each other. And they would just let us spill it out. I remember telling them how I felt about the boys. How Philip was driving us crazy with his freedom, and Samuel with his fundamentalism. How I envied Philip his zest for life. And how I counted on Samuel for his stability.
I was glad Joshua and Esther were there for me and Martha. Because a few months ago I needed a shoulder to cry on. It started when Philip came to me and said that he wanted his share of the inheritance, to go off and seek his fortune elsewhere. Seed money, he called it.
Fools gold, said Samuel. Father, if you give Philip his money you know very well you will never see it again. and neither will he. Seed money, indeed. Father, that money will never touch the ground long enough to germinate. It will be gone in days. Father this and father that, his finger wagging at me like I was a child. On and on it went, until I just stopped listening.
Alright, Philip, I said. Here is your seed money. Your inheritance. You have a right to it. You are your own man. I have my reservations. But you have my blessing. Go, and make a good life for yourself. As Philip embraced me, I saw Samuel storm to the door, his head in his hands, shaking it back and forth.
Two days later he was gone. He took the donkey and his belongings and his money, and off he went. I never heard from him for seven months. I heard rumors, though. Rumors I did not want to believe. A merchant from our village who travelled for business ran into him one day in a city far from here. Philip, he said, was dressed in rags and begging at the roadside. He had spoken to him, and Philip had told him that all his money was gone. That he had spent it on the pleasures of the flesh. That he had wasted it. The merchant offered to bring him back. But my son is a proud man, no matter what a mess he had made of things. He refused the help. He said he would pull him himself up. That he would learn his lesson the hard way. He would come home, but not now. Besides, he said, he was too ashamed to face me.
O God, how I wept when I heard that. Imagine, your own child feeling too ashamed to come and talk with you. What did that say about me as a father? I didn't care about the money. We still had lots. I didn't care a bit for Samuel's attitude, either, smirking in the next room as he overheard the conversation. I could hear him singing under his breath, "I told you so..." Honestly, I could have disowned that heartless man-child.
I know some fathers would have said 'good riddance' to a kid like Philip. Would have changed the locks on the door. But I could never have done that. Sure, I had my position in the community, and my son had dishonored our family name with his behavior. But he is my flesh. My spirit. My being. He is my freedom. He is the child I never allowed myself to be.
It felt like years after that news came to us. Martha and I would talk. Plan. Maybe we should go after him. Try to find him. Maybe we should send Samuel with some of the servants. No. We were at a loss. All we could do was wait. and pray.
And then, one day, our prayers were answered. My freedom came home. I looked up from my prayers and there he was, in the distance, coming home. I knocked over my chair in my hurry for the door. I ran like I was a teenager again, my robes flapping in the breeze. Philip looked like the hell he had been through. But I didn't care. I flung my arms around him and kissed him.
Philip started to talk. He had an earnestness in his voice that I had never heard before. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." He looked like he had a long speech prepared. But I never let him finish. I shouted to the first servant I saw, "Go on, go into the house, and bring out the finest robe you can find. Get a ring for his finger. Don't just stand there. Find some sandals for his feet. Go and get the fatted calf. Slaughter it. Put it on to cook. Do it all. And do it now. My son was dead and now is alive. He was lost and now he is found." Go. Go. Go.
I don't know whether Philip was dizzy from his journey, or from the reception he got from Martha and me. But for the rest of the day he just slowly shook his head in wonderment.
As for you-know-who, he was out in the field when his baby brother got home. When he heard what happened, with the robe and the ring and the calf, he went into the longest, most righteous tirade he had ever spouted. I thought it would never end.
When he finally stopped to breathe, I moved over to him and held him by the shoulders. "Samuel, you are always with me. You are the anchor of this boat. I need you. And I love you. But I also love your brother here. He was lost, Samuel. Lost and gone. And although you did not miss him, I did. I missed him more than life itself. Both of you are gifts to me and your mother. You are both gifts from God. You are as different as night and day. But God never made us all the same. And I am glad about that.
There may be a lesson your brother here can teach you. God gave him the chance to start again. to change. To come back. And maybe there is a lesson I can teach you, if you can still listen to a foolish old man. You may be lost some day, too, Samuel. And if you are, I hope you will know that there is no end to my love."
(C) Copyright Jim Hatherly.
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