A Parable: The Son in Prison
There was a young man accused of a horrible crime, and sent to prison. He was put into solitary confinement and had no contact with anyone other than glimpses of his guards as they left food for him at meal times. He heard no human voice but his own.
Every night the guards would, without a word, lead the prisoner to a small courtyard. For a short period of time, the young prisoner could breathe the outside air. This was repeated every afternoon and then again each morning shortly after waking.
One day the young prisoner, as he was descending the steps to the outside courtyard, could see a house being constructed just outside of the prison walls. Once in the courtyard all he could see was the sky, and the walls around him. As he went over to the wall that was adjacent to house under construction, he could hear what sounded like a dove cooing. As he listened carefully, he could tell it was a man, speaking very quietly.
“Can you hear me?” The young man said toward the wall of the prison.
“Yes, of course,” came the reply from the other side.
This was the first sound of a voice other than his own that he had heard in years. The young man, before he could stop himself blurted out, “Who are you? Are you a construction worker on the house that is being built?”
The voice on the other side did not answer his question, but instead simply made polite conversation with the young prisoner.
Each day, when it was time for his courtyard exercise, the young prisoner would hurry out into the courtyard and stand against the wall. Each time the stranger on the other side was there. They talked of the weather. They spoke of weighty issues. The conversation was like a new life for the solitary prisoner.
One day, the stranger asked the young prisoner a direct question that had thus far been unstated. “What are you in prison for?” the stranger asked.
“I committed a horrible crime.” The prisoner answered transparently.
“Did your parents not teach you well?” The question came back.
“I never knew my parents,” The prisoner responded.
“You do now,” the stranger said through the wall. “I am your father. That is my house that I built. I built it here, so I could be close to you. Each day, I look forward to these times that I can spend talking with you.”
The young prisoner’s reaction to such news was not as it would have been mere months before. Instead, he welcomed this news. After all, this stranger, who he now understood to be his father which he never knew, was his only contact with anyone. He accepted the stranger’s word for it, and continued to look forward to each day’s time in the courtyard.
Over several years, the relationship between the father and his imprisoned son grew. Through the conversations with his father, he grew to have a profound respect and love for him. He learned that his father was a great man, the very governor of the province – and yet in spite of his greatness, he came to meet and talk with his son each day, three times a day. He had even built his house next to the prison so that he could be near his son – so that he could dwell next to him.
One day, the son announced to the father, “I am going to try to escape from this prison. I want to be with you all the time."
“No, no. You may not do that,” declared the father. “You have committed a crime against the government. You must pay for your crime. Once your punishment is paid, then we will be together all the time. For now, these times of conversation are precious to me.”
The son was not convinced, and later attempted to escape and failed. He was locked away in solitary confinement without any more visits to the courtyard. Months went by. Finally, he was permitted once again to visit the outside courtyard.
As he descended the steps, he could see over the wall. Where his father’s house had been was nothing but rubble. His father’s house was destroyed! He frantically turned around to go back into the prison – someone must be able to make contact with his father, he thought. But the guard stopped him.
In sorrow each day, the son would descend the steps into the courtyard, and then in sorrow of his lost relationship with his father, he would stand by the door into the prison and look at the wall from a distance. The wall was where he had gotten to know his father. His own failure had taken his father from him! He would stand there, whispering to his father as if he could still hear. He talked about how kind and good he was. He talked about what a great man he was. But in the end, he only talked to himself.
One day, as the young man was in the courtyard, he heard a dove cooing again. He ran across the yard to that wall that he had stayed away from in sorrow. Through the wall, he heard crying. He heard weeping. “Father,” he said, “is that you?”
“Yes, my son, it is I,” came the reply.
“Father, where have you been? I am so sorry that I did not listen to you. I am so sorry that what I did made them tear down your house and keep you away,” the young prisoner said.
“No my son,” the father replied, “I have not been kept away. I am the one who had my house destroyed. I knew that you would keep trying to escape if I kept it here. Each day, three times a day, for these past months, I have heard you come into the courtyard. I heard your weeping. I heard you speaking to me, and about me.”
The father paused, and then with a quiet voice, like the voice of a dove he said, “Each time I heard you speak in this place, I nodded my head and said to myself, “How sad I am that I had to destroy my house from nearby to my son. But how happy I am that I have son to speak of me this way.”
We are like the son. Our Father, our King, will one day take us from our prison, because He has paid our debt. Until we experience His everlasting Presence, our prayers please Him greatly. They are our service of the heart.