surprised by mercy

Posted: May 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

The sun was setting. I had gone walking, after seeing my brother’s return.  I had wanted to leave my parents the time and space to discreetly deal with him regarding the consequences of his leaving.  It was good to know that he was alive, and in truth it would be good to have him around again.  I had missed him more than I had first thought was possible.  It had turned out that I didn’t want to just forget he had ever been born.  Oh, it couldn’t be the same as before he had left.  He had taken too much from our family, had hurt my parents too much.  His place in the household would necessarily be changed.  Perhaps he could work as one of the farm hands.  He owed at least that much to us all.  Still, it would be nice to have him around again.

I ran into one of my buddies along the road, as I approached home.  He was leaving.  Behind him, I was surprised to see that there seemed to be a lot of guests at the farm.  It almost looked like…a party?  But that couldn’t be right.  

My buddy watched my eyes, scanning the scene.  His smile was wry, his tone apologetic.  “So.  Your brother is back.  I don’t think any of us expected that!”  I shook my head, searching for the right thing to say.  “Yeah.  I can’t figure your dad out.  I mean, I’m glad to show up for a feast, especially at your house.  Your family certainly knows how to welcome the community!  But I wouldn’t have guessed he’d kill the prize fatted calf for your brother’s return.  Does this mean you don’t have any wedding plans in the next year?”

Feast?  The fatted calf?  What was he talking about?  I stared at him, unable to formulate a question.  Maybe it was his bad idea of a joke.  I chuckled uncertainly, a knot of uneasiness blooming in my belly as I peered past him into the growing darkness.  A fire crackled near the outbuildings.  So many people!  Laughter wafted on the breeze, traveling across the night air to us. 

“You were at my house?” 

“Everyone in this part of the country has been at your house!  Boy.  When I saw your brother drag past my house earlier today, the last thing I expected was a celebration feast tonight.  I will never figure your folks out.”

A feast?  The fatted calf?  The questions were stuck, playing over and over in my head.  I stared at the fire.  I listened to the laughter.  I struggled to break away from that sight, those sounds.  To really HEAR my friend.  I must be misunderstanding him. 

“So, what was his story?”  My buddy’s grin was sour.  “How did he get back into your old man’s graces so quickly?” 

I searched for words.  Finding none, I pushed past my friend, walking slowly toward the fire.  This couldn’t be right!  What about all the money he had taken?  What about all the trouble he had caused?  What about all those long months of my parents in agony?  What about all the extra work the rest of us had to do, to make up for his absence? 

A feast?  The fatted calf?  I had thought the next feast here would be when I married.  That was what I had understood the fatted calf was being held for.  No such date had yet been set, but a calf took time to reach maturity for slaughter.  Was I to be expected to wait?  Or maybe it just didn’t matter if a special animal was set aside to commemorate my move into manhood and the passing of the farm into my care and custody.  Maybe somehow my life had ceased to matter, now that my brother was home.  Could this be real?

Slowly I approached.  There he was.  My younger brother was seated comfortably beside my father, all cleaned up, nothing like the dirty wretch that had walked up the road toward our house earlier today.  The firelight glinted off something on his hand – was that a family ring?  How was that possible?  Didn’t he have to EARN a privilege like that – especially after all that he had done? 

My father’s smile was huge.  His hand clenched my brother’s shoulder.  This was not just a man protecting our famly’s reputation – he was being sincere.  Could it be?  He really seemed glad – proud, even – of my brother. 

My brother wasn’t doing penance.  Wasn’t living a reduced role in the family, for all that he had inflicted on all of us.  Wasn’t being required to pay back what he had taken, before being restored. 

My brother was being celebrated as if he had never left.

My father looked up and saw me approaching.  His eyes met mine.

I turned on my heel, headed for anywhere but here. 

No way it could be working out like this! 

Just.  No.  Way. 




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