The following is a rework of brief devotional skit that I wrote for performance at my church some years ago. It is based on the Biblical parable about The Prodigal Son. There have been many versions of this story over the years. The following is my own:
The train sped north through the bleak Illinois countryside. Patches of snow covered the ground and the sky was gray with the threat of another storm. In a passenger car of that train two men sat opposite one another in the rear of the coach. One of them, the younger man, was gazing out the window at the passing fields. He looked a bit down at the heels, and concern showed on his face, yet there was also an appearance of hopeful anticipation as he gazed out the train window.
The older man spoke, and as he did so it became obvious that the two did not know each other.
“Not long before snow flies, I’d say.”
“Yes,” replied the younger man. “I believe you’re right. I seem to remember we used to get snow around Thanksgiving almost every year.”
“Then you’re from around here?”
“Yes,” was the reply. “But not for a long time.”
The train began to slow down, and the conductor passed through the car on his way toward the front of the train, calling out the name of the upcoming station as he went.
“Mine’s the next stop after this,” said the younger man.
“Been travelling long?”
“Seems like forever,” was the reply. “I boarded in New Orleans yesterday.”
“Going home for Thanksgiving, I suppose.”
“I hope so,” the younger man answered. He was silent for a while and then went on with a gush of words, pouring out his feelings.
“You see,” he said, “I really don’t know how my family will receive me. I don’t know if I’ll be welcome.”
“Oh, surely you will be. Thanksgiving is a time for families.”
“Yes, that’s true. But I threw away any family rights I had a long time ago.”
The train stopped at a small station, discharged and took on a few passengers, and then moved forward again.
After a time of quiet, the young man trembled nervously, obviously distressed.
“Want to tell me what happened?” the older man asked.
“Not much to tell. I had a falling out with my Dad a long time ago. It was pretty bad. I was wrong. I know it now. But I actually cursed my father and stormed out of the house in a rage. I told my family I never wanted to see them again – never!”
There were moments of silence.
“I meant it too,” the young man continued. “I was a stupid kid who thought that my father was a Dodo, and I had all the answers. The world was my oyster.” He laughed ruefully. “How much I knew.”
The older man shook his head and sighed sympathetically. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not the first young man to have a falling out with his family. Have you had any contact with them since?”
“Not really,” was the reply. “You see, once the anger wore off I guess it was my pride that stood in the way. And for a long time I thought I was doing okay. I made a lot of money, and I spent a lot. I had a lot of good time friends too. Sure, I thought about my family once in a while, but pride would force me to push these thoughts away.
“About two years ago, though, things began to fall apart. The business I was in hit a really bad patch, and I lost my job. I had to pretty much grab whatever work I could and live sort of hand to mouth. All my good time friends disappeared. Then, to make matters worse, I tried to ease the pain with whiskey.”
“I see,” said his companion.
“I guess things hit bottom about six months ago. I was about as low as a man can get. I got real sick from food poisoning and almost died. While I was in a sort of coma it seemed to me that God came to me and spoke to me in a dream. He told me to go home. Well, sir, you can believe I’ve been on the wagon ever since. And I’ve been scraping together the money for this trip. It hasn’t been easy. Jobs are tight in New Orleans – like everywhere else, I suppose.”
“You are right about that,” said the other man. “these are hard times. Did you let your family know that you are coming home?”
“Yes, I did. And that’s what I’m worried about. You see, I didn’t have a fixed address, so they couldn’t answer my letter. My old home is situated right near the railroad track about five miles this side of the next station. There’s a great big oak tree that stands at the back of our property next to the track. I told my folks to tie a big ribbon in that tree if I’m welcome at home, otherwise I’ll just pass on through and not bother them again.”
The young man nervously rose, sat down again, and put his head in his hands.
“I can’t bear it,” he said. “our place is around the next bend, and I can’t bear to look. Would you please look for me and tell me if there is a ribbon in the old oak tree.?”
As the younger man hid his face in his hands the older man stared out the train window. The train swept around the curve, and the older man dropped his hand on the other’s shoulder and squeezed it tightly.
“Did you say a ribbon?” he said. “I’ll say. There are so many ribbons in that tree that you can’t see the branches. Look at it! Look!”
That evening, that Thanksgiving eve, there was great rejoicing in the old home not far from the railroad tracks. – for, as the father said, “this son of mine was dead and now is alive again – he was lost and now is found.
“PRAISE BE TO GOD!
THE BIBLICAL VERSION
“A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me (the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:11-32)