Thoughts from the Family, March 31

Thoughts from the Family

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Quarryville United Methodist Church, worshiping with Catskill UMC and Simpson Memorial UMC

March 31, 2019



I’m Anna, the big sister of the family.  I moved down the road years ago to get married and raise my own family, but I’m often back home, especially on Friday nights to light the Sabbath candles since mama died fifteen years ago.  So I was there that night when Joey asked for his inheritance, when all we heard was Joey basically saying he wished Papa dead.  We were speechless.  Finally Andrew spoke up, “You get your inheritance when Papa dies, not now when he’s still alive!”  But it’s ultimately Papa’s money, and Papa can’t say no to any of us; he never could.  So he sold off some acreage and pulled out shekels from his locked box under the bed and gave Joey his money.  And Joey took off, for almost a year.  We didn’t know where he’d gone.  Every once in a while a neighbor would report having heard that he had shared a glass of wine with their cousin in a tavern on the road somewhere, so we figured he hadn’t been killed by robbers or jackals, but other than that, we knew nothing.  We missed him around the farm.  My oldest, Samuel, stepped up to help his grandpa as he could, but he was still a child.  Some fields didn’t get the care they should have that summer, but we made it through.  I missed him.  I love that kid brother of mine.  He always makes me laugh.  He still does.  But it was Papa who suffered most that year.  He adores Joey.  He adores us all, in truth.  Joey was the baby, and he looks more like Mama than any of us.  So yeah, he has a special place in Papa’s heart.  And Papa’s heart ached for him when he went away.



Joey’s a punk!  Yeah, he’s my brother, and I suppose I love him.  He’s my flesh and blood, after all.  But he’s still a punk. He’s immature, and he left back then because he just didn’t want to do the work.  He decided not to take the responsibility he should have, and he took off.  He broke Papa’s heart when he left, and it hurt to see Papa sad like that.  I’ve spent my life trying to make my father happy.  I sweat in the fields every day for Papa.  I could have gone away, to make my way in the world.  I could have studied and traveled, but instead I stayed here, the loyal son, supporting the family and keeping the fields and the flocks.  It was what was expected, or at least hoped for. To be fair, Papa never demanded it.  He doesn’t have a heart that demands anything. 


Joey tells stories sometimes about what happened that year.  He says he spent the money fast, ended up sleeping on the streets some nights, and then landed a nasty job with some pig farmers.  Even then it took him six more months to come home.  Lazy kid!  He’s back home now, and working the fields with the rest of us, but I’m still not sure I trust him.  Papa does, though.  Papa loves him.  And Joey trusts that love.  I wish I could trust Papa’s love like he does.  Papa loves me.  I know that in my head.  But I still struggle to really believe it.  So I love Papa by working.  Working really hard.  And Joey is back in the family, acting like he belongs here, like he never left.  And Papa acts like that, too.  It’s not fair, not fair at all.



Do you know what it’s like to be a grown man and still have everyone in the family call you Joey, like you’re still six?  I had to leave.  I wanted to prove that I could make it in this world without all the older folks taking care of me.  I know I hurt Papa when I asked for that money.  But I had to do it. I felt so trapped here on this farm.  We all miss Mama, but I was just a kid when she died.  And nobody could take her place.  Nobody, not even Anna, though she tried.  Andrew just hates me, always has.  I’m never good enough for him, never up early enough, never quick enough with the hoe, never gentle enough with the lambs.  He’s good with them, I’ll give him that. 


My year away wasn’t all fun and games.  It was tough.  But I made it, sort of.  I toughed it out for a long time, and then realized that I could be here working for Papa as a hired hand and do better than I was with those pig farmers.  Oh, I hated that job! 


I didn’t know what I’d find when I came back.  I thought maybe they’d forgotten about me completely.  I knew Andrew didn’t want me back.  And I knew Anna would welcome me, but she’s not really here much anymore.  It was Papa.  I didn’t know what to expect from Papa.  I really didn’t.  I thought it was reasonable to ask just to work for him.  I could avoid Andrew and prove to Papa that I was worth something after all.  But he didn’t let me; he didn’t need me to prove anything.  He just welcomed me.  He was thrilled that I came home.  He loves me, just as he always said he did.  I cried at that party.  I cried because Papa loves me, and he was overjoyed to have me back.  He even tries to call me just Joe now and then.  He’s not very good at it, but I really appreciate the effort.





They’re all mine, all three of them, and together they own my heart.  I love them dearly, though they’re so different.  I really have always loved them, though I wasn’t so obvious about it when they were young.  Oh, they were adorable then, as babies are, and they were each of them charming toddlers.  But loving them was their mama’s job.  I took care of the farm.  I couldn’t have done it without her, of course, but I spent the days in the fields and caring for the animals and the evenings thinking about the next day’s work.  When she died, I was lost. And I was devastated.  I hadn’t loved her well enough. I loved her very much, but I hadn’t told her.  I had been too reserved, taken too much for granted. I had even criticized her sometimes for being too easy on the children.  I judged her for loving, she who had loved me so well and so long.  And now she was gone, and with her my heart.


I claimed my heart back, for my children.  I had to.  Anna and Andrew were almost grown when she died, but they missed her sorely. And Joey was still just a kid.  They needed love.  They needed the love their mama would have given them, and they needed my love as well.  I wouldn’t find myself regretting anything; I decided I would give them all that I had.  Anna thrived.  She’s enough like her mother that she simply took my love as she’d taken her mama’s and incorporated it into her life.  She’s now a wife and mother herself, and she runs the finances of both my farm and her own.  She takes excellent care of her own family, and she comes back and takes care of us in the process, too.  She’s a gem.  I don’t know what I’d do without her.


Andrew is such a hard worker.  I couldn’t run this farm without him either.  He’s my right-hand man.  He’s tender with the sheep, and he runs roughshod over the weeds, as he should.  But he’s not happy.  He’s tough on himself, he’s tough on me, and he’s very tough on Joey.  I don’t think he’s grieved his mama’s death, even after all this time.  And somehow he feels he has to prove himself.  To whom, I don’t know.  I love him.  I wish he’d give in and love himself as I love him.  I wish he’d let love in.   And I wish he’d forgive Joey.


Ah, Joey, who’d prefer to be Joe.  So impulsive, so frustrated, so funny, and so lovable.  I’m glad he’s back home.  I promised my Sarah I’d take care of all of her babies, and I was afraid I had let her down yet again when Joey stayed away so long.  Now he’s home.  Of course I threw a party when he arrived; he had been lost and now he’s been found.  He had been dead, gone, far away from me, and then he was alive again, and I could do nothing but rejoice! 


Oh, friends.  Don’t make the mistakes I’ve made.  Just let love guide you, let love make your decisions and let love be your light.  Forgive easily. It is a joy to be loved, and it is a joy to love, fully and completely, all that God gives you.  May this wisdom bless you, today and always.


Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32


15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

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