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The Prodigal’s Mother 2 Cor 5:16-end Luke 15:1-3; 11b-end

It was a shock when it happened, but in some ways I could have seen it coming. The men in my life are Zach, my husband, and my sons Ben the elder and Jerry the younger. Two more different sons a mother could not have had. A husband more soft in the head than my Zach – well in all God’s holy land, I don’t know if one exists!

I said I could see it coming. When Ben was born we were so proud of him. The eldest always seems to be one’s greatest achievement, and as he began to grow up we were always pleased with him. He was placid as an infant and learnt to walk without a problem. He was an obedient child. He learned his Torah so well and at his Bar Mitzvah so many people congratulated us on what a fine young man he had become.

But Jerry – my goodness, what a different child! I had a difficult pregnancy with him, an even more difficult birth, and then the infancy seemed even worse! He was always awake and restless, very demanding – oh, I thought I’d lose my sanity with him! As he grew older we had a lot of trouble. He was always squabbling with his brother. And if he wasn’t creating trouble with his brother he was off somewhere else getting up to no good. I thought I had enough trouble with Jerry, but his father always seemed to indulge him. Jerry knew how to get things out of his father – always asking for this and that – he had him wrapped around his little finger. And always Zach would shrug his shoulders, chuckle and exclaim, “Well, that’s my boy!” Honestly, I could have quite happily murdered him. “Don’t you see what he’s doing to you?!” I used to shout at him.

Then the pestering got worse. After his Bar Mitzvah (which was a disaster, I tell you!) Jerry spent more and more of his time doing just as he pleased. He hated working in the fields, he was always off somewhere else with his friends. Ben would complain to his father, but Zach never really listened to either me or his older son. So although I said it was a shock, in some ways it was no surprise. One evening at bedtime Zach said to me, “Judith, we’ll have to get ready for a change in our lives.” “What!” I exclaimed, “what do you mean?” Then Zach told me how Jerry had asked for his inheritance and was leaving home permanently. Well, I just blew up. “You stupid, soft-headed man!” I screamed. “You cannot just give in like that, let him take half our wealth and go without so much as a by-your-leave! I knew that boy would be the ruin of us!” But Zach just shrugged his shoulders as he always did and said that he couldn’t go back on his word and I’d better get ready to say my goodbyes to Jerry.

We wept, and we spent the next few days feeling very bereft. Ben just carried on working out in the fields all day, every day. In some ways things were quieter – with Jerry out of the way, there were fewer arguments, less worry wondering what time he would come back in and how drunk he would be. At least he was out of the way. We managed on half of our things – Ben, bless him, helped to recover some of our losses with his hard work.

But I still worried about Jerry – what mother will not, even if she has had enough of her wayward son? The weeks went by and turned into months. We never had word of our son, he never bothered to send any message. For all we knew he was dead. I began to realise that was probably what happened – knowing Jerry’s ways of getting into to trouble. Who knows what enemies he made and what that would have brought on him? I cried and mourned and told myself that it was no good thinking he might return one day, I had better just adjust myself to his loss otherwise I’d die of a broken heart. Ben didn’t say much, but he seemed happier with the role of “only son”.

Zach never gave up hope, though. He was upset, oh yes, there were times when I didn’t seem to be able to get any response out of my husband. But every day he went to the top of the hill and looked out. He said he needed some peace and quiet, now he was growing older, but I knew what he was doing. I knew that every day he hoped Jerry would come back and he would be the first to see him. Oh, I despised him for it! I told him more than once to stop being so soft-headed and just accept the fact that Jerry was lost for good. But no, my husband wouldn’t listen to me!

Then one day, it happened. Zach went out as usual, to his lookout point, and blow me down, if he wasn’t rewarded with the sight of his beloved Jerry coming home. I heard the shout and sent one of the servants to see what the commotion was. Zach was off, running down the other side of the hill, and I heard from the servants what an emotional re-union it had been. Then it was all mayhem. Zach ordered everyone about – kill that fatted calf! Get the best party clothes out! Invite the whole village – in fact, not just our village, but all the other villages too! Order the musicians, get the dancers – it was as if we were organising a wedding.

Naturally, I was overwhelmed to see my Jerry again. After all those years of thinking he was no more, to be able to hold my son in my arms again – well you couldn’t imagine it! He was so skinny, all bones, a sallow face, and skin like leather. He’d not eaten in days and he’d lost everything he’d taken away. I couldn’t be angry with him – what would it achieve? Zach was like a new man, skipping about the place, smiling and saying, “That’s my boy! I knew he’d come back!”

But I could see the pain in Ben’s eyes. We sent servants to the fields to tell him his brother was back, but he didn’t come home till sundown. He refused to join the party and had a big blow up with Zach. That was the first time I’d every seen him go against his father. Zach tried to reassure him – after all, everything we had belonged to Ben. But it was no good – you couldn’t tell Ben what to do any more. He had earned his place, no doubt about it, and that younger brother of his had only returned to stir up more trouble. Why didn’t his father keep Jerry as an employee? Jerry had suggested it himself. But Zach wasn’t having any of that. I knew Zach. I also knew my boys – what woman doesn’t know how her men tick?

You see, both boys were at fault. Jerry had always treated his father as someone to provide him with things. He never seemed to realise his father was there to love him above all else. Even when he came back, tail between his legs, his was still trying to cut a deal – “treat me as an employee!” I’ll work for you and you can give me what I need. The words might have changed, but it was still the same tune, if you see what I mean. But, no, Zach wasn’t going to disown his son – his own flesh and blood. He had to learn to be a son, to see that it was love that his father wanted to give him above all else.

And what about my Ben? Well, maybe he had a similar weakness, but just showed it in a different way. He, too, didn’t realise how much his father and I loved him. He didn’t have to earn love or acceptance, however much pleasure he gave us for being a good son. We loved him just as much – the hard work was a bonus, but he would never be able to buy our love! That’s what lay behind his resentment when Jerry came back and he wouldn’t join in the party. He felt betrayed because of what he thought his loyalty was based on.

Zach and I have had our moments. Zach admits that he was over-indulgent of Jerry and perhaps didn’t show Ben enough affection. I had to hand it to my husband, though – he never gave up hope all those long years. Ben still works hard and is learning to accept that everything really is his, but despite that we love and accept him for who he is. I just hope that Jerry and he can be reconciled to each other. It is not easy for Jerry, settling back and admitting how foolish he has been. Things are improving and it is certainly good to have my dead son back again. Such is motherhood!



When anyone is joined to Christ, he is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.

2 Cor. 5.17-18