Reading: based on Luke 15: 11-32
Once there was a woman…
There was once a woman who had two daughters. They were both clever and sassy and funny. They worked hard and loved their mother, as together they toiled on the farm their father and grandfather had left them. Naomi, the eldest, loved sowing and planting, ploughing and reaping, making the cheese and the butter and collecting the eggs to sell at the market. Her little sister, Eve, adored all the animals, but particularly she enjoyed lambing and calving and sitting with the farrowing pigs.
One day eighteen year old Eve said to her mother “I want to see the world; I want to take a gap year and travel. I don’t want to wait until I am old like you to realise that I’ve been nowhere and done nothing. Will you give me some of the money that would be my inheritance when you die so I can go?”
Her mother was a bit upset. It was true that she had lived locally all her life – it had been everything she had wanted, to marry, have children and live on a farm. She was hurt that Eve thought she had done nothing with her life. However, she made enquiries, and then sold Top Meadow, and gave Eve the money she got. Naomi was furious because Top Meadow was good pasture, and she and Eve had heated words. But Eve booked her tickets, packed her bags and left.
She flew to Thailand, and then on to Japan; she visited Bali and travelled by boat to New Zealand; she flew to Sidney in Australia and visited the Opera House and surfed on Bondi Beach. Everywhere she went she made new friends and had great fun. She was so generous that more and more people flocked to her, as she bought food and drink and hired a car.
One morning, when the dollars in her purse got a bit low, she went to the hole in the wall. To her horror she was faced with the words INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. She tried again for a smaller amount, but it would give her exactly – nothing. With insufficient funds in her purse she slept the night on the beach, and then hung around a few cafes and washed up in return for left-over food. Then she began to hitch-hike wherever anyone would take her – Melbourne, Geelong, Uhuru, Alice Springs. She worked on sheep stations and cattle runs, paid in meals and beds in bunk houses. When that failed she fell to eating sheep nuts and cattle cake.
Then, one morning she woke up crook. She felt faint and was shivering. An aborigine woman took her into their shack and told her man that the girl had been walkabout and needed looking after.
By the end of the week Eve felt better and had tried all sorts of weird and wonderful foods. She got up and went into town; she took out her open return ticket and booked her plane home. On board she ate every crumb of the awful airline food and ate all the snacks she was offered. Once she cleared customs she hitched a lift to the motorway, and then travelled the four hours home on three different lorries. She walked up the farm lane three stones lighter, four shades darker and thousands of pounds poorer.
Her mother was delighted to see her home and sent her for a shower and clean clothes. Whilst Eve was gone, she fried bacon and eggs and fresh field mushrooms. Naomi, coming in for lunch was not at all pleased to see her wayward sister with her feet under the table tucking into food as if she hadn’t seen any for a month, whilst she had been working harder than ever doing her own jobs and Eve’s. She could not understand her mother’s joy at her sister’s safe return.
Her mother told her “Look, the whole farm is yours now. What you are working for is yourself, all of it. But I love you both, and I thought Eve was gone for good. Don’t be jealous of her; she has lost so much and gained only experience.” But it took a long time for Eve to earn Naomi’s forgiveness by taking her fair share of working the farm.
The Prodigal’s Mother’s Eye View – a reflection on Luke 15: 11-32
I don’t feature in any of the stories told about my son.
Jesus knew it and told it,
But it’s just about the men – my husband and the boys.
It’s not about me at all.
And I had quite a different view!
I carried that boy for nine whole months;
I fed him and cleaned him,
Taught him and nursed him
And I LOVED him –
I love him still
And always will!
But I was not blind to his faults;
I could see his wild ways,
The running away from the Rabbi up into the hills,
The overturned carts and chasing the sheep!
I knew almost before he did
That self would one day come before everything.
So the day he left, I wept.
But I kept my stupid woman’s tears to myself,
Especially when he never sent word,
And Jacob said “Let him go” and Samuel said he didn’t care.
Eventually we heard that he had left the city and gone abroad.
His so called friends had left him when the money ran low.
That was the hardest time –
Not knowing where he was;
Not knowing how he was;
Not knowing what he was doing.
That was when Jacob began watching at the gate;
Every single day for hours on end,
Just watching the road down the hill.
Never working, just leaving everything,
And Samuel saying he wished that his brother had died.
When they started that I cleaned;
I washed all his clothes (although they were clean)
I tidied his room (although everything was in the right place);
I mended his bedlinen (although the holes were minute)
I made him a prayer shawl (although there are two in his box)
And all the time I prayed.
I prayed “Lord, keep him safe”
I prayed “Lord, make him happy”
I prayed “Lord, give me strength”
And I was strong!
I believed that one day, in his own time,
In God’s own time,
He would find his way home.
And so he did.
Jacob, watching as usual by the gate saw him first,
And ran to meet him and brought him in,
Shouting for fine clothes and sandals and fatted calves.
“Not without a bath” I said, my nose picking up the stench of him,
Like sour breath and pig sties.
And in bathing he was so thin,
His shoulder blades sticking out,
His ribs like stripes, all skin and bone,
And skin covered with sores.
But he’ll fatten, now he’s back!
Once the feasting was under way,
I went to find Samuel, whom I also love
Hiding in the barns,
To speak to him, sooth his anger and his sorrow,
To convince him of our need for him.
Jacob might say that God welcomes all his sons and daughters
Just like our Prodigal son,
But only a mother love can read a broken child’s heart,
Or an angry child’s mind;
Only a mother can mend a relationship
And keep the peace.
That’s why this mother knows that God is more than father;
God is more than mother;
God can see more than we will ever know,
And God will nurture peace and turn anger into love.
Revd Barbara Bennett