We have always been so different that I have often wondered whether we really are brothers. OK, we look like each other, but there the resemblance stops. There is only a couple of years between us, but we seem to be light years apart. And I don’t think it has just happened in these last few years – looking back, it has always been the same. Sure, there were times when we were young that we got on really well. There were times when we got into fights with each other, and times when we stuck up for each other. But I think that was more like school-friends than brothers. It wasn’t that side of it that showed our differences so much as the different ways we went about things. I don’t really remember much before school. I suppose I was too young to notice any differences before then – I was me and he was him, and that was all there was to it.

I always wanted to be the best. I think I got it from Dad. Dad always had to be top guy, and I worshipped him. He was top guy, so I wanted to be up there with him. Trouble was, there were other kids in the class who seemed to be brighter than me and who answered the questions faster than me. But I remember Dad encouraging me, pushing me on, telling me I could be the best. So I worked and worked and pushed as hard as I could. My brother started school a couple of years after me, and that’s when the differences became obvious. It seemed that from day one, my brother was top of the class, and it never took any effort. It wasn’t just luck either, because he got first prize every year, and he never seemed to do any studying. Looking back, I could perhaps have made it easier for myself by saying that he simply had no competition in his class, but I didn’t. I don’t think it drove a wedge between us or anything, there was no jealousy, but it did have the effect of making me work harder and harder – I had to show that I could do it too.

And so it went on. I pushed myself as far up the class as I could, and got a place at university. Around that time the tables seemed to turn. Perhaps my brother decided he’d had enough school. I think he got to a level where his natural brain-power wasn’t enough and, because he had never studied, it had just all become too much for him, so his schooling came to a rather disappointing end. To me, it was the first real sign of how carefree he was. It’s strange, I suppose it’s something to do with pride in the family, but I took it harder than he did. It just didn’t seem to bother him, and yet I seemed to feel the shame that I thought he should be feeling, the shame that I would have felt if I had been in his position. I could see the disappointment in Dad’s face too, but my brother just threw the whole experience over his shoulder and got on with the next stage in his life.

That next stage continued our journey in more or less opposite directions. After graduating, I started working in Dad’s business, learning the ropes and quickly moving into greater responsibility. My brother refused to join the family business, and drifted from one job to another. By this time I had given up on him, and would have ceased caring, but I could see the pain it was giving Dad. I tried to tell my brother what he should be doing, but I suppose that I was too angry to get through to him, and it was always a disaster, pushing him further away. He never had any money, and was always ‘borrowing’ it from Dad.

Then one day, the bombshell struck. He had decided that he couldn’t stay in our wee town. It was too small, too restricting, and he wanted to go to the big city. He would make a new start, get a new job. He would need some money to start himself off, to get a flat, to tide him over when he was looking for his life-changing job. “Dad, can you help?” I was raging, but Dad fell for it hook, line and sinker, still loving him, still having faith that he would change, that he would make it. Dad was giving my brother another chance, but to me it was just another chance for him to mess up.

At first he kept in touch, but it soon became obvious that it was just to get more money. Things weren’t going quite as he had planned, but he was having a great time, and just a little more money, Dad, and it would soon be fine. It really made me mad to see the pain Dad was going through. It also made me mad that he kept sending him money, while I earned every penny I had. In a way, I was glad when the letters and phone calls stopped. I think Dad had finally said to him that enough was enough. It didn’t help Dad though – he was hurting with worry. Silence was worse than bad news, and there were months of silence.

Then yesterday I came home from work, and Dad was at the door waiting for me. He was laughing and jumping about, happy for the first time in months. In fact, ‘happy’ doesn’t even come close – he was ecstatic, excited. Before I could even ask what had happened he shouted for joy that my brother was coming home, he was on his way! I was furious! It was good to see him happy, but not for this! He wasn’t happy each night when I came home – why now? Why for him? After all the pain he had caused?

Dad looked at me, put his hands on my shoulders. “Look, son, I know you are always here. I know you don’t give me any problems, you help me. I can depend on you, and I love you dearly. But your brother has been lost, and now he is on his way home, and that is what matters. He is coming back where he belongs.”

So now I am waiting for him to arrive, wondering what I will do. Will I welcome him as much as Dad says I should? Will I love him as much as Dad wants me to? Will I forgive him as much as Dad will? What will I do?

What would you do?

(Based on Luke 15:11-32)