My retelling of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable is told from the elder brother’s point of view. I have titled it, The Calf, the Caretaker, and the Prodigal Brother.
The cattle lowed as Abihu entered the shed. Piggy was the loudest.
Abihu groaned, “You have no idea how much trouble you are.”
Piggy mooed again.
“So you don’t care. Is that it?” Abihu went to the hay bin. He filled his arms with hay, and set it in front of Piggy. “Eat your fill.”
Abihu fed the other animals, but even the older cows got less than Piggy. He had to reach deep into the bin. “The bin’s gettin’ low, Piggy!”
Abihu sat and watched the cows. He thought about where he could find more fodder. “It’s your fault,” he told Piggy. Even when the grass had begun to dry up for lack of rainfall, he had blamed it on Piggy.
Abihu liked to complain about Piggy, especially in front of his father. Secretly, however, he liked the calf. Abihu thought Piggy had been a perfect specimen from the day he was born. Now he wondered whether it had been a mistake to mention this to his father. He had hoped that his father would give him the calf. Instead, father had told Abihu to keep that same calf fattened up.
Abihu had replied, “If you plan to give the calf to the priests as a sacrifice, there’s no need to fatten him.”
“No Abihu,” said his father. “We must fatten this calf for a family celebration.”
“What celebration, father?” Inwardly, Abihu also wondered, “What family?”
His father had simply replied, “We never know when the Lord might give us cause to celebrate.”
Abihu knew that if anyone needed to celebrate, it was his father. He had been hopelessly morose ever since Matthias had left.
Abihu still resented that day. His younger brother Matthias had never done his share of the work. He’d had a wanderlust, but never had an opportunity to leave the farm until… until he arrogantly made one for himself. Unable to wait for his father to die, Matthias had brazenly demanded his full share of the inheritance! The worst part of it was that everyone knew he only wanted to spend the money on beer and whores.
Even though father must have been deeply hurt, he raised little protest. He had calculated the value of the estate, and given Matthias a bag full of silver.
Abihu’s mind briefly went back to his work. He got up and said to Piggy, “I know where I can get you some more grass.”
Abihu recalled that Piggy had been born not long after Matthias left home. He wondered what special occasion would call for the calf to be slain so that everyone could feast on his tender meat. It had better be a good one, he thought.
An entire year had passed, but his father still hadn’t slain the calf for a feast day. Abihu was most disappointed that his own birthday had passed with little notice. What did an elder son have to do to gain respect in this household? And who in his right mind fattens a calf for an entire year?
Occasionally, Abihu got a sinking feeling in his stomach when he thought about why his father might want to slay the calf. “No, never,” he thought. “That will never happen!”
Abihu realized he had said this out loud, and that he was petting Piggy’s neck. He thought, “What if my father were to see me? I’m not supposed to care about a slaughter animal, especially one that I always complain about.”
Abihu glanced at the cracks in the shed to make sure nobody was looking in. He then stepped outside.
He was surprised to see two people coming up the road toward the house. One of them was surely his father. Father’s arm was wrapped tightly around the neck of a derelict in tattered clothing. His father stopped repeatedly to hug the other man and speak to him. Again, Abihu found himself speaking out loud, “No, it can’t be!”
Abihu couldn’t retreat now. He stood by the shed as the two figures approached. As he feared, the man his father had embraced was his brother, Matthias. Even though Matthias was nothing but skin and bones, Abihu felt no pity whatsoever.
Father was ecstatic—completely oblivious to the fact that Matthias had treated him like dirt and wasted his money. He ran to Abihu and said, “What a joyous occasion this is! Your brother has returned. Aren’t you happy? Let’s slay the fatted calf and celebrate!”
Abihu began to object, “But father…”
His father read his thoughts, and interrupted him. “My son, your brother is sorry for what he did. You must forgive whatever wrong you feel he has done you.” Then, father smiled broadly and hugged both sons while proclaiming, “We’re a family again!”
Abihu looked at Matthias, who glanced down at the ground. “He should be ashamed to look at me,” he thought. Abihu wasn’t about to foolishly hug and kiss him the way his crazy father had. The quickest way to get away from his brother would be to immediately comply with his father’s wishes.
“I’ll take care of it,” was all he said as he retreated back into the barn.
Abihu peered through a crack in the wall until his father and brother had gone into the house. He turned to Piggy and said, “It’s time. This is what your life has been about all along.”
Abihu grabbed a rope and led the still-hungry calf out of the shed. He took Piggy to a big tree. He had previously rehearsed in his mind how he would hoist the calf’s rear end into the air to drain the blood from his neck.
After removing his knife from under his belt, he held it against Piggy’s neck. The calf stood there dumbly, looking straight ahead.
Abihu could already hear music and sounds of celebration coming from the house. He thought about the injustice. “Why should this poor, innocent calf have to die for my guilty brother? It isn’t right!”
He withdrew the knife, steered the calf toward freedom, and slapped him hard on the behind. He shooed Piggy away with loud shouting.
Abihu then headed for the road. At that moment, he had no idea where he was going. All he knew was that he had to get away from there.
My Comments on the Parable of the Prodigal Brother
This story doesn’t match some details of Jesus’ parable, but any differences are minor. In the parable, the older brother came in from the field after the celebration had already started, and the calf had already been slain.
The Hebrew name Abihu means “he is my father.” Matthias means “gift of God.” I had no other reason for choosing these names.
One thing that makes this one of the greatest stories ever is that it’s incredibly easy to identify with either brother.
In the parable, the elder brother had some friends. He was envious, and was surely tempted to party the way his brother had. So I assume that if this had been a true story, that son would have considered leaving home, at least temporarily. However, to remain faithful to the spirit of Jesus’ parable, nothing is revealed about what the older brother will do next. His walk down the road will at least give him time to think about it.
What will we do in similar situations? I hope we’ll always be willing to forgive, and to join in God’s celebration.