THE FATTED CALF
Once a fatted calf suspected something might be up. For the longest time, it hadn’t paid that much attention to what went on around it, preferring instead to focus contentedly on all it was being fed each day and listening to all the prayers whispered over it to speed its fattening up. That changed, however, as shadowy figures proclaiming themselves long-lost prodigal sons began showing up and eyeing it in an unsettling way. At first, they’d slipped in alone, but more recently they’d arrived in twos and threes, and occasionally in droves that made no effort to avoid notice. In fact, they seemed increasingly intent on drawing as much attention to themselves as possible. Apparently it was no longer enough to confess you’d sinned in the eyes of God, repented, and now felt ready to receive your reward. You had to proclaim it as loudly as you could and to any who would listen. Further, confessing minor faults would not do. Without sufficient proof you were a bona fide miscreant, it seemed you could have no confidence of claiming a full measure of redemption and the forgiving embrace that went with it? In the crush of competing prodigal sons, each one straining to shoulder out his rivals for recognition, as if being accepted back was only a prelude to greater honors and wider respect, the more common transgressions fell short of the mark and proved useless. Bearing false witness against others, shady deals that might be considered stealing if ever brought to trial, and all manner of coveting this and that simply wouldn’t cut it. While violations of that commandment about not killing, understandably, rather overshot the mark. So the trespass of choice among would-be prodigal sons on their return increasingly narrowed to one somewhere in between: adultery. Yet you couldn’t just rely on run-of-the-mill adultery, as best the fatted calf could figure out, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a reprobate worth your salt. While calling yourself a serial adulterer, though likely to raise your profile initially, might cast doubt in the long run on your sincerity in claiming to have seen the light. The knack, then, seemed to lie in calibrating one’s admission of adultery with the smallest margin of error. Accordingly, an increasing number of prodigal-son candidates might be seen enlisting the aid of prominent, respected elders in the religious community to help plead their case. Whether in meetings behind the barn or right out in public, men and women who claimed wide moral sway queried each hopeful in turn to determine which prodigal son to endorse as the real adulterer and which ones were not entitled to their support. But what was it, the fatted calf asked itself, these prodigal sons and prodigal pretenders were hoping for, exactly? Was it just forgiveness and a slate wiped clean, as though their trespasses had never happened? As though they’d remained faithful in spirit, however else it might look? Or was there something more ill omened behind these entreaties? Something in the way their narrow glance shifted here and there around the assembly of all those opening their arms in welcome until it settled upon the fatted calf itself? Oh, lordy!!
Copyright © 2007 by Geoffrey Grosshans