When five year old Saroo is separated from his brother he crawls onto an empty train and falls asleep, he wakes to find himself bound for Calcutta, a thousand miles from home. It is the beginning of a seismic shift in his world. Alone and lost he begins a life on the street, which then results in a place in an orphanage. Then he is adopted by a wealthy Australian family and his life takes a turn for the better. He finds himself in a prosperous home with a new family that care deeply for him. Twenty years go by. He grows up, begins a course in hotel management and falls in love with fellow student Lucy. One evening while chatting with fellow students he is asked where he is from, at first he says, ‘Calcutta,’ but later adds, ‘I’m not from Calcutta, I’m lost.’ When he explains, one of the other students suggests using Google earth to try and track down his family, and so begins his heart-rending search for home. He is haunted by thoughts of his beloved mother and brother in India, those people who must wake each day wondering where he is…
Joseph’s story is not the same as Saroo’s, but it is a tale of family separation, and of the pain of a parent having lost his beloved boy. When Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him as a slave they tell their father he has been killed. Joseph then endures years of separation, heartbreak and hardship. Surely some of his brothers must have woken each morning wondering what had become of their brother, the lost, ambitious dreamer. Were they tempted to come clean and tell the truth to their fading father? Meanwhile, after being wrongfully imprisoned Joseph’s life takes a turn for the better and he finds himself working for the king of Egypt. And while he is there a famine rages and he arrives at work one morning to see a bunch of bedraggled brothers, come to beg for food. Not just any brothers. His brothers. Those who gleefully abandoned him for cash. Those who tore him from his family and father.
We might expect instant retribution from the now powerful Joseph, or if not that then a tearful, if awkward, reunion. But human nature is complex. Contrary emotions build up in Joseph. His brothers don’t recognise him, though he knows them. And instead of coming clean he plots and schemes to find out what they are like now, if their hearts have changed. The tale is convoluted, and Joseph bides his time, even going so far as wrongfully accusing them of theft and locking one of the brothers in prison. He must have been bursting at times to reveal his identity and have them bring his father to see him, but something inside held him back. Reconciliation may have been bubbling up, but he kept it corked for a good long time.
It’s not easy to be the first to say ‘sorry’ or ‘forgive me’ or ‘let’s talk about this’. A million movie plots are built on the premise that we find it so hard to be humble with one another. And understandably so. People trample over each other, some folks are out there looking for a chance to manipulate and coerce others. Humility is naïve. Thank God for those who encourage us to be different. To talk, to listen, to say ‘I’m sorry’. Those folks we know or have known, those folks who continue to shine a light into the dark troubles of relationships. Years ago, on the radio, I heard a letter from an anonymous daughter, writing in to request a song for the mother she had not spoken to in years. After the song had ended the phone lines were jammed with Mums calling in to ask, ‘Is it my daughter?’ So many prodigals. Saroo and Joe both found themselves to be enforced prodigals, not wishing to leave their families behind. But it happens, life ambushes us, and we may find ourselves at times lost, and a long way from others. From God too. Which is why he let his own son leave home, why he put long, lonely distance between the two of them. The ultimate crucified prodigal loses everything, and the father stands back and waits; in order to complete a Sunday morning miracle, one which will close the gap and bridge that terrible distance.