Once upon a time there was a family with two sons. They lived on an estate near the mountains. It stretched from the foothills down to the river that flowed out to the city on the coast. One day the younger son said, "Father, I want out––give me the share of your property that I'm supposed to inherit and let me go." So the man divided the estate between his sons. Not many days later, the younger son sold his land, gathered all he had and went down the river and away into a far country.
Though the estate was a third smaller now, the elder brother had twice as much work to do, for his father, worried about his younger son, grieved over the lost boy and seemed to lose interest in the managing of the estate. Every morning the elder son would come and say, "Father, what shall I do today?" With difficulty his father would pull his mind away from the far country, back to the estate and decide on something that should be done, "Oh, work on the fence in the high pasture...and check on the horses if you want..." The elder son would go off and do his father's bidding but sigh and worry that his father wasn't directing the operation of the estate the way he had used to in the past.
One evening the man was walking with his wife in the gardens down by the river in back of the house when he said to her,
"I wish that our son was more responsible."
"Yes, it's so upsetting with him gone off like that..." she replied.
"No, I mean our eldest son. Every morning he reports to me and asks what I want him to do that day. I want him to take responsibility and decide for himself what he wants done with his estate. I gave it to him, I want to see what he'll make of it."
"Well, maybe he doesn't understand that it’s his estate now... Why don't you tell him that that is what you want?"
"No!" exclaimed the man. He continued, "No, for then he would do it because I asked and not because he himself wanted to. I want my son to take up responsibility freely, of his own will. Only then will it really mean anything to me."
"Are you sure you shouldn't say something to him?"
"Yes, I don't want to ruin the possibility of his assuming responsibility on his own."
"Well," said she, "I still don't think that it's fair to expect it of him and not give him any hint of what it is you want."
And they sat down on a stone bench and watched the river.
In the far country, the younger son squandered his inheritance, living a high life and having what he thought was a good time: He spent everything that he had, and when he was broke a great famine began in that country. Soon the younger son was very hungry; so he hired himself out as a servant to a wealthy farmer. He was sent out into the fields to feed the pigs, so hungry that he would have gladly eaten the pigs' food. But no one gave him anything.
Meanwhile back home, his elder brother became increasingly concerned about his father's apparent disinterest in managing the estate. One day he spoke of it to his mother.
"Father just doesn't seem interested in anything around here anymore...He's not overseeing the state and when I ask him anything about it, he seems so far away."
"Oh son, you know that he's worried about your younger brother."
"Yes, I know...but the estate has got to be managed…Life goes on…"
"Why don't you do some of it yourself?"
"Oh, I think that he'd be pleased if you took on some responsibility for the estate. Like you said, he's got other important things on his mind right now. It would be nice for him not to have to worry about the estate too."
"Well...I'll think about it."
So the elder son thought about what his mother had said and from that day on began looking at the estate in a very different way. Patterns became clear to him in the ways his father had managed the house and fields and the son began to see that the work could be continued and expanded to add to the beauty of the estate. He began to work up plans for renovations and gradually to bring them about, uncertain and yet pleased when they turned out well.
As his new projects took shape, his father would notice them with secret joy and he expressed his pleasure to his wife. She wondered if he hadn’t ought to let their eldest son know that they were pleased with the additions and changes being made being made to the estate and asked her husband as much. But the man said that it was too soon to do that as their son was not yet established in the new attitude and behavior and they did not want him to slip back into old patterns of action.
In the far country, hungry and watching the pigs eat, the younger son came to his senses and said to himself,
"All of my father's hired hands have enough to eat, bread to spare...But here I am, famished and about to die of hunger!"
He thought a bit more and them exclaimed,
"Stupid me! Get up and go home...Say to Father, "Father, I'm sorry, I've done you wrong. I don't deserve to be your son. Will you hire me as one of your farmhands?"
And he got up and went back home.
While he was yet at a distance, his father saw him. The man cried out and ran and embraced his son and kissed him. His son said to him,
"Father, I'm sorry, I've done you wrong. I don't deserve to be your son..."
But the father said to his servants,
"Quick! Bring some new clothes for him––the best ones we've got. Clean him up! And put some shoes on his feet. And tell the kitchen we're going to have a feast! My son was dead, and now is alive––He was lost, and we've found him."
And they began to celebrate.
Now the elder son was out in the fields working. When it was getting dark and he was coming back to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered,
"Your brother has come home and your father has killed a fattened calf because he has returned safe and sound."
The elder son became angry and didn't go in. His mother saw him from the kitchen window and when the servant returned asked him about her son. When she went back to the table, her youngest son wondered about his elder brother and asked why he wasn't there. She replied,
"He has just gotten in from the fields and will join us shortly."
And then turning to her husband she said,
"I think that now is the time to talk with him. He's down by the river."
The man went out to find his eldest son; when he did he called out,
"Son! You are here. Come up to the house. Your brother's back..."
"Yes, I know. You've killed a fattened calf...You're singing and dancing. I heard it way down the road as I was coming in from the fields."
"He came home...we're celebrating."
"Look...All these years I've worked for you––I never disobeyed your commands or went against your wishes––"
"True..." his father said.
"––And you've never even given me a goat so I could party with my friends!"
"Son? hunff...But when this son of yours came, who squandered your estate with whores, you make a feast! All these years I've never treated you like that, but I'm ignored. What...what must I do? Must I feed pigs?!?"
"Son!" his father cried, "Son, you've been with me always and never caused me any trouble. You've always been good and I've always loved you... I see what you've done with the estate, you mother and I love walking along new terraces in your gardens...They're beautiful. All that I have is yours! My home, my possessions, the estate...Yours. My hopes, my plans...You're even invited to look and care about your brother the way I do––It is good that we celebrate tonight. You brother was dead and is alive––he was lost and is found..."