John W. Cowart


You've already heard about my kid brother, haven't you?

Everybody knows about him.

Yeah. He's the one who took the money and ran. Did all kinds of bad nasties. Spent the money on high living, drinking it up, running around till the pigs caught up with him and put him in the pen. Made him eat husks.

Then he got converted in jail.

Big deal.

He came to himself, got out of the pen and started home. Ain't that nice.

Our Father saw him coming a long way off, ran to meet him, hugged him, kissed him, bathed him, gave him new clothes, put a gold ring on his thieving hand and killed the fatted calf!

My calf, I'll have you know.

Me? What have I ever done except work hard, stay home and take care of the family. Never been arrested. Never caused no trouble. A real homebody, that's me.

And what do I have to show for it?

Say, you think this is some kind of a fairy tale?

No way.

This is the real life story of good guy John Cowart at his first Kairos meeting.

You see, I worked for a big Jacksonville company for a good many years. Never missed a day sick. Always on time. Did my job.

You think I get a promotion?

Not a chance. Back about three years ago I applied for an opening I really wanted. More money. No weekend work. Chance for advancement. My family was just about starving with the rinky dink job I was already in, and I needed that new job real bad. I'm a good worker, I thought, I'll get the promotion with no sweat.

But there was this prisoner just getting out of jail.

And the boss -- who didn't even know my name -- was a Kairos volunteer.

So he brings in this former prisoner, this jailbird, this prodigal, and gives him the job that I had my heart set on.

Ain't that something.

And for three years, the prodigal worked for the same company I did. I avoided him. I resented him. I hated him.

And he never even knew I worked in the same building. Like I said, it was a big company.

But other workers would point out what a fine job the prodigal was doing and I seethed. Because he was doing a fine job, an outstanding job in fact and that made me even madder.

So three years drag by with me gnawing wormwood.

Then along comes this other guy and knowing that I am a good, upright Christian-type citizen, he asks me to volunteer with Kairos at Baker Correctional Institution.

Hey, it gets worse.

The night I'm to go, my stupid car breaks down and I have to bum a ride to out there in the boondocks; so the friend who asked me to go arranges for me to catch a ride with...

You guessed it. My own kid brother, the prodigal. He's a Kairos volunteer too now, going back to help the guys who still are where he was.

I could just see Our Father up there laughing his head off at my squirming.

Well, as you know, Our Father loves us self-righteous guys too, and few things warm his heart as much as bringing us prigs to repentance. In fact, he has given us written instructions about what to do in such a situation as I found myself in.

Listen to this:

"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (Matt. 18:15).

"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11:25).

"Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother..." (Matt. 5:23-24)

Well, where did all that leave me?

Look,, when the prodigal decided to come home, he was only eating corn husks; when I had to repent of my own sin and bitterness, I had to eat pure raw crow -- guts, feathers and all.

It was hard to swallow my pride and tell my brother that I had envied and hated and resented him; it was hard to ask him to forgive me.

But, you know what?

Even raw crow tastes better than bile.

I confessed my sin to the former prisoner who, of course, had no idea that he'd been working so successfully in the job I wanted for the past three years.

He even apologized to me though he never knew I'd felt so bad nasty toward him.

And we both felt sad and humble.

And we walked into that prison together to minister.

And while I was in the small group session, one inmate there told about how he felt bitter about his cell mate and I told about my own confessing and repenting.

And that night when my former rival for the job, former competition drove home... Well, we were not former anythings.

We are just plain brothers.

And I suspect Our Father is as happy about the situation as we are.

Got to stop writing now. My brother and his wife are coming over for dinner in a few minutes -- Hey, we're all having roast beef. In spite of his experiences in the pig pen, even my kid brother couldn't eat a whole fatted calf by himself.



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