Author Archives: Randy Ehle

Son or Slave?

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With weary steps he trudged homeward, the twin burdens of leadership and famine weighing on his shoulders. Yet another shepherd had left, weary of the near-constant attacks by wolves and lions. Their normal prey—herds of deer and wild goats—had been decimated by the drought, forcing the predators to brave the slings of the increasingly-wary shepherds. But the hyper-vigilance took its toll, too, and many of the hired hands simply walked away, seeking respite from both sun and battle.

Yet hope grew with each passing day. The rainy season so long absent was near, and reports from the west had often included signs of increasing clouds. He had even seen a few himself when gazing toward the unseen sea. Passing tradesmen, with their stories of adventure and excitement, had made him wistful for the same. But his home was here, his father was here, his responsibility was here.

The evening shepherds on their way to the fields were silhouetted by the sun as it dipped into the distant Jordan River valley. They were just slipping on their outer cloaks against the gathering dark and cold as he came upon them. Their voices were unusually animated, but in a brief space between words, a breeze from the east carried the faint music of … celebration? He asked what it was about.

“Your brother has returned!”, said one with unmasked wonder.

“They’re starting to party!”, said another. “They even butchered the fatted calf!”

Brother? Returned? He stood staring after them as the shepherds hurried on their way, then he stared down the path toward home. The old anger rose again in his heart. Venomous words gathered in his throat as he started once again, his pace quickening with every step until he was almost running. More than once he stumbled over an unnoticed stone as the blinding resentment returned.

Suddenly he was outside the house, his whole body shaking with adrenaline and the anticipated confrontation. The pungent aroma of leeks and peppers mixed with roasting beef and insulted his nostrils. Joyful sounds of lutes and lyres, cymbals and drums, struck discord in his now-raging breast. A servant passing just inside the window noticed him—noticed the reddened face—and found his master.


“My son! Come celebrate! Your brother is home!” The old man came running, as breathless in his enthusiasm as the son in his anger. His brow glistened in the lamplight, wet with the perspiration of the dance.

“Brother? I have no brother!” Spittle flew from his lips, spraying his father’s face and tunic. “That lech is dead to me – dead to you!”

“Yes, he is dead – was dead. But he has returned. He lives again!”

“Yes, he lives – lives with whores and rakes! He lived it up on your hard-earned money. What he didn’t throw away on women, he guzzled until he awoke in his own vomit. You’ve heard the stories as well as I have. He dragged your good name through the mud and dung and threw away your life’s work.”

The father looked down in shame-filled remembrance. A tear coursed down into his beard, mingling with the spit that still clung there. He knew all too well the bitter truth of his son’s words, and gathering both thoughts and feelings, he quietly acknowledged that truth. “Yes. He did.” Then, looking up again, he continued. “Yes, he shamed me, humiliated me. He buried me that day: told me I might as well be dead. But that’s not the half of it.”

“And this is how you reward him?”, the son interrupted, anger rising with his father’s admission. “You squander the fattened calf just as he squandered your estate? And here I’ve worked for you—slaved for you—all these years and you’ve done nothing for me! I’ve done everything you’ve asked, never left your side. I even did your work while you sat all day on that rock looking for him. And you never so much as offered a goat for me to enjoy with my friends.” Wrath and spit dripped from his mouth.

“Yes, you have been with me. You have been faithful and wise and industrious. You have managed the flocks far better than I could have in this drought. You have even managed to increase them; no one does that in a famine! You saved us. And I have been lost these past months – as good as dead myself. But your brother was dead, too. And his was a death worse than death itself. Like Cain of old, he killed another but was condemned to walk among the living. The stench of death clung to him, overpowering his drunkenness, his vomit … even the pig slop. The shame he brought to me hung from his shoulders everywhere he went; as he lay naked with each prostitute, the one garment he could not remove was that shame.”

“He deserves the pigs!” The son spat.

“Perhaps. You said you slaved for me these years. That is all your brother has asked now to do: to live here as a servant, to sleep in their quarters and eat their meager portions. But he is no servant, he is a son. My son. My blood flows in his veins just as it flows in yours. And today he has come home. Today he has come alive.

“If you would be a slave, then I free you from all obligation. If you, like your brother, would be free to live as you wish … all I have is yours. But you are no slave in my eyes. You are my flesh and blood, my son – my dear son – my first-born. And I love you, just as I love your brother.

“Come. Eat. Dance. Celebrate. Rejoice in resurrection.”

Family Reunion

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Racing, shameless, breathless, the old man never took his eyes off the ghost as he ran. It must be … but it couldn’t be. His son? A bewildering tangle of relief and horror, of joy and fear, muddled his mind. The face, though sunken and empty, unmistakably belonged to his son; yet the unfamiliar silk rags hung limply from an unrecognizable frame gaunt with starvation—not the chiseled proportions of a youth born to the hard work of a rancher.

He nearly fell over reaching for his son, but the boy had collapsed at the old man’s dusty feet. From a throat parched and dry came the word he’d longed for months to hear: “Father….” Like sweet, cool water pouring over his head, the word refreshed his heart, bringing life where death had dwelt.

Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

If he heard the words, he paid them no mind. Lifting the boy to his feet, he held him tightly, fearful of letting go, of once again losing his son, of waking from this dream at the end of a nightmare. “Father….” His son lived!

With arms around each others’ waists, father and son walked slowly home. No more words passed between them. Both choked back tears, the thoughts of each absorbing the past months, wondering what the next would bring. A servant, in wide-eyed wonder, emerged from the house. “Quick!”, the master commanded. “Bring sandals and my best robe! My son has returned! My son is alive!

As the boy bathed, washing off months of deceit and despair, the father barked orders to other servants: “Butcher the calf! Set the tables! Assemble the musicians! Tonight we celebrate!

And so they did. And no funeral, no memorial, no celebration of life, before or since, was ever such a party. Life had returned to the valley of death.


This is Part IV in a series looking at the story of the Prodigal Son. Find the earlier installments here:
Part I: It Wasn’t Hard to Leave That Day
Part II: Alone with the Pigs
Part III: The Prodigal Father

Beyond Numbers – Beyond Borders – Beyond Ourselves

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Immigration isn’t an easy topic with easy answers. Even the questions are hard. Add the dynamic of refugees—immigrants fleeing war, persecution, famine…or even economic hardship—and everything just gets more challenging. But look into a refugee’s eyes for a few minutes and something changes. The questions are still hard; the answers don’t come any easier. But you see not a number or a statistic, you see a human being – a person. And behind those eyes is a story….

The Prodigal Father

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When the long-expected words came, the sting of them stole his breath.“Father, I cannot stay any longer.” The boy was a delight: free, adventurous, always joking, always smiling. But those traits that made him so easy to love—and to like—were the very things that now pulled him away. “I want to live,” the boy said, dragging out and emphasizing the live. “I want my inheritance. Now.”

And in living, the father thought, he puts me in my grave. Like a butcher’s razor-sharp knife, his son’s words cut deep into his soul. He gasped for breath, steadying himself on the table as strength nearly left his legs. The labored pulsing of his heart masked the shame he ought to have felt at his son’s rejection. With his free hand, he reached for the boy’s shoulder and drew him close. No arms encircled the broken, weeping man. Weakly, he called a servant and gave the order to divide the flocks. The servant, feeling his master’s shame, did not look in his eyes.


Dark nights passed in sleepless misery. With each new dawn, he stood scanning the distant horizons, hoping beyond hope the nightmare was over and he would see his son’s silhouette against the sunrise. At dusk, he stood again — staring, wishing, longing.

The boy had run away once before, when he was young. Scarcely taller than a ewe, he’d wrapped a few loaves and some fish in a bag, scrawled a note, and set out. He was gone some hours; but before dinner his mother found him, sitting on a rock with his arms around his knees, looking over the swollen Jordan. “I can’t swim,” was all he’d said, before walking home, hand in hand with her.

Now the father sat often on that same rock, staring across the fabled waters. As the days drew into weeks and the weeks to months, he’d sent messengers throughout Judea in search of his youngest. Always they’d returned, unable to meet his hope-filled eyes. East, across the Jordan, in the land of Perea…perhaps this is where his son had gone.

Meals were quiet now. His wife and younger son had always made the table a lively place, but she had died long ago and now… now it was just he and Reuben, his older, ever-faithful son. Reuben reported on the condition of the flocks, where the best grazing lands were now, where the wolves were attacking lately. He’ll do well when I’m gone, the father thought. He choked on the final word. Gone? I am already gone; my boy has taken my life. It was right for Reuben to keep account; after all, all that remained was his—or would be, when his father was at last buried next to his wife.

Buried. A final resting place. A place to mourn, but also to remember. He had sat Shiva for his wife—the seven days of mourning Moses had commanded—but had returned often to her tomb when being a single father to two boys had gotten the better of him. There he remembered her smile, her gentleness, her wisdom. There he found the grace to love when the boys fought, to forgive when they wronged him.

He’d gone often, almost daily, these past months. Now his son, too, was dead—must be dead—but there was no tomb for him, and so no place from which to remember. And it was from there that he looked up and saw the specter in the distance: an emaciated and tattered figure, empty handed and bare footed, head hung low.

And the old man ran….
This is Part III in a series looking at the story of the Prodigal Son. Find parts I & II here:
Part I: It Wasn’t Hard to Leave That Day
Part II: Alone with the Pigs

Psalm 8 Revisited

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Abba, Father, Mighty God —
a name resounding throughout the earth
echoing through canyons
a sonic boom shattering across the land

Children sing your name with delight!
Babies coo and gurgle it
long before they say “mama” or “dada.”
Your enemies’ mouths are shut
in the face of these infant worshippers!
Who can withstand their profound praise?

I walk outside and look up at the skies,
gaze on the carvings of the Rocky Mountains.
Escaping the city lights, I try to count the uncountable stars
stare at the barely discernible hills and craters of the moon….

Why, in all creation, do you bother with the likes of me?
How can you possibly even notice me,
let alone love and guide me?

But you do! Among all your magnificent creation,
only the angels outrank us!
Only those who stand in your very presence
are higher than we who are created in your own image.
And somehow, you’ve laid upon us
the honor and glory of royalty.

What’s more, you’ve put us in charge!
All creation (save your angels) is under our management.
You’ve made us to be shepherds and ranchers and farmers,
zookeepers and fishermen,
birders and boaters, botanists and foresters…
all to care for and oversee and enjoy
the beauty and wonder of your handiwork.

O LORD, our lord,
We are awed by you.
Your name brings wonder and praise to our lips.