Sunday, January 26, 2003

A Parable to Share

I wrote this today after reading John 15 and reviewing Henri Nouwen's book, Lifesigns.

House of Fear

Once upon a time there was an old man, a widower, who had two grown sons. The old man and his loving wife had raised their boys in a small, simple cottage overlooking a quiet stream. The house was small but rugged. It had weathered many storms and many years. The old man himself had built the house with his own hands many decades earlier and was quite proud of it.

It came to pass that the old man grew sick and called his boys to his bedside in the small, simple cottage. “My sons,” the old man said, “Your father is dying…and I am going to be with Momma soon. Everything that I have is yours. I have thought long and hard about how to divide the inheritance between you.” The old man then proceeded to give the small cottage and the furniture within to youngest brother, while the oldest brother was given the old man’s life savings, an amount considerably more than anyone expected. Both brothers seemed pleased.

It wasn’t long before the old man passed away and the younger brother moved back into the small simple cottage. He left the place just as it was, not wanting to disturb any of the memories of his youth or of his loving parents. He missed his father, but somehow being in the house made the pain more bearable.

The older brother, who loved his father but was always ashamed to have to live in a small, simple cottage, took his father’s money and constructed a very large and impressive house for himself. It was, by all accounts, a mansion…the biggest house in the entire town. It had dozens of bedrooms, two kitchens and a guesthouse three times bigger than the old cottage. The brother spent what was left of his father’s money furnishing the house with exotic and expensive items from all over the world. When the house was completed, the older brother held a huge banquet for everyone in town in his father’s memory. He quickly went deeply into debt as he tried to manage the affairs of his new house and his newfound popularity.

As the brothers began to grow older, they also grew apart and spent less and less time together. The younger brother found a good job at the mill and married a nice girl from the next town over. Before long, they also had two children, two boys of their own, who filled the simple cottage with love and kisses and lots of noise. Sometimes the brother would think about his older brother living in a large quiet house and he would wonder if he was happy. He would wonder why he never came to visit and if he was embarrassed to be seen in the old cottage after living so many years in the biggest house in town…most of the time, however, the younger brother just smiled and loved his life: his wife, his children and the gift of his father’s old house filled with a legacy of love.

Life was not as joyous, for his older brother. His life was busy…busy working at the office, busy socializing with the town leaders, busy keeping up the house, busy trying to scrape together enough money to pay the bills. He found his mansion to be quite cold and empty…and, above all, frightening. He hated to go home at night and would often sleep in his car so that he wouldn’t have to face the dreadful loneliness of such a big house. He would curse his little brother under his breath for being so simple-minded and na├»ve. He even began to hate his recently deceased father for forcing this life upon him by giving him so much money.

It wasn’t long before the older brother snapped. He lost his job and began sleeping on the overgrown front lawn of his house in a small tent. His friends all left him and the school children poked fun of him as they walked to and from the bus stop. His hair and beard became as wild and unkempt as the house he owned. His entire existence was miserable and he would lay awake at night in his tent hoping in vain that someone would just come and kill him and move into the dreadful house.

Early one morning, three visitors appeared among the weeds and trash surrounding the older brother’s tent. It was his younger brother, accompanied by two young men.

“Go ahead, boys. Introduce yourselves.” The younger brother spoke to his nearly grown sons. The oldest spoke for the both of them, “Hello, Uncle…we…that is…momma and dad says that if you want to come home…”

The estranged older brother looked up at that moment with tears in his eyes. He did not say a word, but began to cry and reach toward his brother.

The younger brother fell to his knees and embraced the weeping man. “My brother, come home. It is a small simple cottage, but there is room. The boys have agreed to share a bed and I’ve added a bathroom where mama’s roses used to be…there’s plenty of room.”

Through the tears, the older brother managed to speak, “Thank you, thank you. I am ready…I’m ready to go home.”

To this day the older brother’s mansion remains empty and unkempt as a memorial for all of the people in the town to the difference between a house and a home.

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