The Parable of the Lazy Brother


Three brothers inherited equal parcels of land from their father.  The land was vast and diverse, and the weather was unpredictable.  One season bountiful rain would shower one end of the fields and the other would be in drought, while the next season the conditions would sometimes switch entirely.  Each brother was eternally grateful for the inheritance, and they sought to make the most of their good fortune. 

The studious brother researched the science of farming and meteorology.  He dutifully read the weather predictions for the upcoming season, monitored the soil chemistry, and allocated his seed to the better fields each year to maximize yield.  His skill paid off in tremendous harvests that were the envy farmer who knew him, and he was known far and wide for his knowledge in working the fields.

The hard-working brother knew nothing of farming, so he sold his inheritance for a great profit and continued to dedicate his life to his successful career.  He enjoyed his new wealth and was generous with others, often showering his brothers with gifts.  He was loved and well-respected by all he encountered.

The lazy brother spread his inherited seed widely over the land.  Every year some crops would grow wildly while some would wither and die.  At the end of the season, he would take the excess seed from the successful fields and spread it evenly over the land yet again.  He spent most of his time painting landscapes on a hillside, and while he was happy and well-liked he generally lived in the shadow of his two successful brothers. 

Every year the three brothers would gather for dinner to celebrate the memory of their father who provided so much for the family.  The studious brother brought a vast feast and spent each evening discussing the latest advances in farming technology.  The hard-working brother brought many expensive gifts and spent each evening discussing his latest work success.  The lazy brother brought a simple homemade apple pie and he spent each evening asking his brothers about their lives and families. Concerned with his lack of ambition, they would occasionally chastise him to think smarter and work harder.  “Stop casting good seed into dry fields or wasting time with frivolous hobbies, and you’ll have a more prosperous life!”

The years passed and the annual ritual repeated.  Then one year, the weather was particularly unpredictable with violent storms and epic floods that swept the land and destroyed many crops and homes.  Weary from the long and painful season, the brothers met at their annual reunion and shared tales of their struggles.

The studious brother apologized that he had no feast to offer.  “My predictions were wrong, and my crops were completely destroyed.  But I feel lucky, as my knowledge will allow me to rebuild the farm.  All I need is a loan to purchase seed to re-plant the land.”

The hard-working brother apologized that he had no gifts to offer.  “The proceeds from the sale of my inheritance are spent and gone, and the storms destroyed my place of work.  But I feel lucky, as I will find another job and my hard work will carry me until the day I die.  All I need is to find a way to feed my family until I’m back on my feet.” 

Concerned but resolutely calm, the lazy brother set his traditional apple pie on the table and embraced his brothers.  “Don’t worry about feeding your family, as I have food to share.”  He then reached into the worn pockets of his paint-stained trousers and pulled out a small burlap pouch bursting at the seams.  “And don’t worry about rebuilding your farm, as I have money to lend.” 

Thankful but dumbfounded, the studious and hard-working brothers couldn’t believe what they were seeing.  “You have no farming skill and no job!  How do you have food and money to offer in a year that ruined us both?” 

Uncomfortable with the attention, the lazy brother shrugged.  “I knew long ago that you are both more talented than I will ever be.  So rather than dedicating my life to toiling in the fields or in an office, I chose a different path.” 

He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts as he sliced the pie and handed a plate to the studious brother.  “I honestly have no idea what the next season will bring, so I take what nature provides and evenly redistribute my new seeds regardless of the conditions of the fields.  Yes, many die.  But no matter the weather over the land as a whole, at least one field always thrives and it provides more than enough to feed my family and re-seed the land.  The apples in this pie are from the rocky area down by the stream that has not borne fruit in ages.  Who knew that they would do so well this year?”

He then reached into his bag, pulled out a small painting depicting a golden field full of red flowers, and turned to the hard-working brother.  “I know that I’m not the most talented painter, but landscapes make me happy.  And I learned that I’m not alone, as hard-working office workers will occasionally pay handsomely for a peaceful view captured in my field.  It may never make me rich, but my hobby generates more than enough inspiration and income to carry me through any tough times.  Here, brother.  I know it’s not much, but I made this for you.”

“Thank you,” the hard-working brother replied.  “It’s beautiful.  I wish I had something to give you in return.”  Settling into his chair, the lazy brother relaxed his shoulders and cracked a genuine smile.  “While I have always been extremely thankful for the feast and gifts you both provide every year, I honestly don’t need those things to be happy.  With my two hands to paint, the beautiful open fields that are both a resource and an inspiration, and more sustainable crops than I will realistically ever need to meet my minimal needs, I already have more than enough.  I’m just glad we’re together.”

Tired, poor, and humbled, the studious and hard-working brothers looked at each other and finally understood that in all the years of rushing to boast or lecture they never stopped to listen. Their brother was never lazy, only wise.

What do you really need to live a happy life?