Once upon a time there were two babies. Their mothers lived on the same dirty street in the same stinking town in the same evil country in the same cold and unconcerned world. The babies were born squalling and filthy, and their mothers, exhausted by the painful birth and half-starved by their miserable lives, could do nothing to clean them up or give them comfort. Each mother nursed her baby with what little weak milk she had and then sank into depressed thought, wondering what to do with this child she could never support.
The first mother thought of a man she had heard of, a rich man who was known for being kind to the poor. She knew that unlike other rich people, he lived in the same stinking city and that his house was not far away. As her hungry baby began to cry again, she made up her mind. She dragged herself off of her bed, wrapped the baby in the only rag she had, and stumbled through the dirty streets until she found herself on the doorstep of the rich man. With only the faintest sort of hope, she rang the doorbell, and the moment the servant opened the door, she fainted into his arms. The servant, who had been with his master a long time and knew what his master would want, carried the woman and her child into the house.
The second mother knew nothing of this rich man, other than the vaguest rumors which she dismissed as lies as all rumors were. She knew of no way to care for her child and no one who would help in any way. She was completely alone in the world and, though she wanted her child to live and be happy, she knew that was an impossible wish. Happiness was out of the question. She would have to settle for life. So she dragged herself off of her bed and wrapped her baby in the only rag she had and stumbled out onto the street to beg for scraps from passers by. She received more kicks than coins that day, but for the sake of her child she didn’t stop until she had enough to feed them both, half-rotten though the food would have to be.
Once upon a time there were two children. Both were five years old and tall for their age. Both lived in a stinking town in an evil country in a cold and unconcerned world. But their lives could not have been more different.
The first child lived with his mother in the house of a very rich man. His mother served this man, working in his kitchens, well-fed and well-dressed and happy. The child, too, was well-provided for and that was not where it stopped. The rich man had actually adopted the boy as his own, given him his name and a good education and access to his fortune. The child knew that not only were all his needs met, but that they always would be. Because of the books and music and intelligent conversation that were always around him, his mind had already begun to expand. He was beginning to read words and write his name and to draw pictures of the world around him. He didn’t see his adopted father very much, for he spent most of his time with his mother, but when he did see the man, they laughed and had long talks, and sometimes there were presents, and the child thought his father was the best thing in the whole universe.
The second child lived with his mother in a shack built up under an old bridge. He shivered at night, but in the day he kept warm through constant motion. He ran errands for his mother and he climbed all over the bridge and he fidgeted while his mother made him sit next to her as she begged on the street corner. Most days it felt like he could never move enough. His mother smacked him to keep him still, and the men who passed by would kick him when he got in their way, but he couldn’t help himself. Something in him needed to be in motion. When it was time to go to bed at night, he would toss and turn, trying to pretend he wasn’t hungry, trying to pretend he wasn’t cold. It didn’t work. Only when his body was exhausted did he finally fall asleep to dream restless dreams.
Once upon a time there were two teens. They both had grown gangly and awkward. They both lived in the same evil country in the same cold and unconcerned world. They both lost their mothers in the same year to the same disease that swept through their city. But that was where the similarities ended.
The first teen lived safe and secure in the home of the rich man who had adopted him as his son. He mourned his mother and felt an ache in his heart that he would never see her again, but the whole household came around him to give him comfort. They shared stories of his mother’s life and helped him remember her beautiful smile. They reminded him to eat and to sleep and made sure that he had clean clothes just as his mother would have done for him. His adopted father himself came and sat for long hours with the teen, telling him stories of his own losses, helping him feel that he was not alone, that there was hope for his future. His father encouraged him to continue in his studies, and the teen did. Concentrating on his work helped him deal with his pain, and he learned and grew and the pain did not disappear but it stopped being his whole world and became mixed with the joy of his happy memories.
The second teen lived on the dirty streets, and when his mother died he was completely alone. Long ago, concerned citizens had evicted them from the shack under the bridge in the name of cleaning up the city, and the boy had never realized how hard his mother worked to find them a place to sleep every night. Without her, his whole world became a struggle to find some small amount of food to eat and some small amount of safety to rest at night. Most night’s he didn’t succeed in this. He was frequently beaten by other, stronger men who wanted to sleep in the spot he had chosen. He was occasionally arrested by other, more respectable men who wanted no one to sleep in the public areas of the town. He grew to fear everyone he saw and to resent the need to be afraid. His endless drive to be in motion became his salvation. He learned that he could run, and he could run faster and farther than those who wanted to hurt him. But he couldn’t help thinking that life shouldn’t have to be this way. Every time he ran, his anger built.
Once upon a time there were two young men. They both had reached the age where they were expected to be men and they both secretly felt like boys in their hearts. They both lived in the same cold and unconcerned world, but that had a radically different effect on them.
The first young man saw the gray apathy of his world and determined to light a fire and burn the cold away. He had all the money and power of his adopted father, and he waited only to finish his college education before going out into the cold world to make it a different place.
The second young man saw the unfeeling hardness of his world and hated everyone who was a part of it. He despised the rich for being selfish and the poor for being ignorant. He despised those in authority for being bullies and those who broke the law for being thugs. He despised himself for being weak and worthless street trash. He saw nothing that gave him hope that anything would ever change. He stole what he needed to eat and spent the rest of his time considering ways to end his miserable existence.
Once upon a time there was a thief. He lived on the streets and he knew an easy mark when he saw one. And one day, he saw the perfect man, and old man walking the streets with his son. They were both dressed in expensive clothes and walked with a quiet confidence that told him they had never known pain. He hated them. When the two men passed him, the older man turned and looked right in his eyes, but the younger man never glanced his way. He was too busy looking ahead. The second young man slipped his hand into the pocket of the first young man and lifted out his wallet, as much for spite as for hunger. The older man saw. He stopped, and his son stopped with him. The son was ready to call for the police, to have the thief dragged away, but the father said no.
Instead, he took the thief home. He gave him food to eat. He gave him clean clothes to wear. He introduced him to the household and told him to make himself at home. The thief was so bewildered by this behavior that his did what the old man said. He ate the food and put on the clothes. He thanked the women who brought it to him and offered to help the men who took away his old things. He didn’t even mean to. He meant to keep hating the rich man and all who lived in his house, but he found it impossible. No one had ever cared about him other than his mother, and even she had only done it out of duty. He found that the responded to kindness in spite of himself.
After only a week, the rich man came to the thief and made him an offer. He would adopt the thief as his son and pay for his education. He would give him an inheritance and a life of security. The thief only had to say yes. Still unable to believe that any of this was happening, the thief agreed. The adoption was carried out at once, and the thief was introduced to his new brother who would show him around the university where he was to get the education that had formerly seemed impossible.
Once upon a time there were two brothers. Both shared the same penniless birth and the same shameful heritage. Both had been taken in by the same wealthy man, and both now had everything they could ever need. There was only one difference between them. One had been adopted as a baby and one as a young man.
The first brother found it hard to get used to his new brother. The second brother was rough and uneducated. He hadn’t read any of the books that the first brother loved and it was often hard to know what to talk about. Plus, the new brother was moody. The smaller things would throw him into a rage or sink him into a depression. The first brother tried not to feel resentful toward his father for burdening him with this brother he had to take care of.
The second brother found it hard to like his new brother, too. The first brother was pampered and naive. He had read way way too many books and didn’t know what the real world was like. He seemed to have no idea how perfect his life had been, and his condescending tone was enough to drive the second brother crazy. The second brother tried not to feel resentful toward the father for raising such a smug jerk and giving him no choice but to spend time with him.
Fortunately, both brothers loved their adopted father, and fortunately, their adopted father was a very wise man. He found quiet moments to talk to each brother and point out that despite appearances they had come from the same place. He told them how much they had to learn from each other. At first, the brothers didn’t really believe him, but they respected him enough to think about what he had said. So time passed, and as they grew more used to each other,they began to see what their father had meant.
The first brother watched the second, listened to his story, and realized for the first time just what his life would have been if his father hadn’t taken him in. He saw the overwhelming gratitude that his brother felt and learned to be more grateful himself, to take less for granted. He saw the depths of his brothers pain and began to ask questions. He saw for the first time how little he knew about the world and he determined to change that.
The second brother watched the first brother calm confidence and began for the first time to believe that all this was real. He saw that their father truly was a man who could be trusted, that he had been good to the first brother all of his life, and for the first time the second brother let go of some of his fear and mistrust. He began to read the first brother’s favorite books and to feel his mind expanding under their influence. He saw for the first time how little he knew about the world and he determined to change that.
The two brothers became inseparable. They learned from each other and joked with each other and grew to depend upon one another. They irritated one another and gave each other practice in forgiveness. They watched each other’s backs. Together they walked the dirty streets of their stinking town and remembered where they come from, before they had a home, before they had a fortune, before they had a father. Together they returned home with new orphans in tow. And together they knocked on their father’s door.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Romans 8:14-17 NIV