He had had enough. Home was boring. Every time he tried to have fun, his father would smile at him, sure, but he wasn’t imagining the quiet sorrow in his father’s eyes. It made him feel awkward. He needed to go somewhere where those eyes didn’t make him feel guilty just by seeing what he was doing. He needed to somewhere where those eyes couldn’t see him at all, so he didn’t need to even imagine that he might be grieving them. He would have his revenge on guilt and shame – he would go away where his father never had to look at him again! That would be sweet.
Then there was his brother. If his father made him feel sad just by looking in his direction, his brother would go out of his way to make him feel angry. Every time he gave himself a break, every time he so much as stopped to enjoy the blueness of the sky, let alone an extra glass of wine, his dutiful paragon of a brother would have something sarcastic to say about how useless he was, and how he didn’t do his fair share. Well, he’d had enough. He’d go away and leave his brother to do all the work. That would be a fitting revenge. That would be very sweet.
It didn’t work out quite as he’d planned. Oh, it went well at first. But when the money was all gone, so was the wine, women and song. He was amazed that so much money could disappear so quickly. And when the money went, so did his “friends”. Suddenly the far country he had fled to didn’t look so wonderful any more. And there was famine in the land. The only job he could get was looking after pigs. Could he sink any lower? And he was so hungry …
There was nothing for it. In order to survive, he would have to return with his tail between his legs and beg for a servant’s position in the house he had left as a son. How they would mock him! What a sweet moment of revenge that would be for the father he had shamed and despised. But there comes a moment in a man’s life when survival is more important than pride, when envying the pigs for the husks they ate is seen as a fool’s game when he could have a decent wage and a full stomach for the cost of a little humility. (And could his pride hurt any more than it already did?)
So he rose and went forth, and as he walked the long, dragging pitiless miles home (there was no fine horse any more, he had sold it long ago) he rehearsed, over and over, the abject words he would say to try and soften his father’s heart. What if they turned him away? He had given them every right to do so.
But his father had a sweeter revenge in mind than any his son had imagined. Every day he was faithfully watching for his son, and his heart lur4ched in recognition when his son was still a long way off, a mere blob on the horizon. Forgetting his age, forgetting his dignity, he ran down the road. Nothing mattered except taking his son in his arms and bringing him back home. He did not want apologies or self-flagellation, he only wanted his son. He brought him home with tears of gladness, and commanded a feast in gratitude. The sweetest revenge there could ever be on a wayward son was to have him back where he belonged: in the centre of his father’s home, in the centre of his father’s heart.