Saturday, 13 March 2010

Brotherly Love?

Luke 15:1-3,11-32
The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

He also said, ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.” ‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

The Prodigal Son

One of the favourite and most well know Parables this week. A story that is used by many aspects of Church and schools for an insight into God and His relationship with us, his children; relationships between his children; relationships in general.

A story of relationship that changes as we do; as we grow; as our faith grows or as it doesn’t. Where we are in our journey of faith is easily reflected by the tone of the relationship we have with the characters, and with which character our sympathies lie.

It is, like all of the Lord's stories, a tale with a challenge to think twice. Not to cling to the preconceptions of a world that revolves around us.

How easily many of us relate to the older son; the good son, some might say. The son who, for many years has been doing the right thing. He says it himself, blindly obedient, in the service of his father. We can share the indignation, the disbelief, that his has been the thankless task. That slaving away day after day in his father’s service has left him feeling unappreciated; taken for granted; believing himself unrewarded.

Is this really how we feel as people of faith; as churchgoers; and followers in Christ? Do we often feel that we are all about duty and ticking the right boxes on a ‘to do’ list. Trying, not too convincingly, not to be resentful that there are others that God seems to loves better (it would be the younger son). And, generally, pretty irritated to see God simply standing by, allowing us to work our socks off, while he waits at the door looking for sinners to come home?

Why do we find it hard to believe that God would be so joyful at the sinner’s return? Do we wonder why God can’t see us; why we should not be so important? After all, can’t he see what we have done with our lives? All that hard work - was there any sense in it?

We are worldly people. Hard work brings reward or it’s ‘not fair’. Success and acknowledgement are part of what we deserve. We cannot help but look at our brother, judge him and finding him wanting. If we feel bitter or resentful then that is his fault for making us feel that way.

Do we even ask ourselves;where is the love? If the older son regards himself as an obedient slave; then that denotes a lifetime spent in the wrong relationship; a relationship of expectation to live up to a standard that doesn't exist; except in his head. Some might call it a sense of ambition, a way of life.

But here we are talking about faith. Our belief in a God who made us, unique and particular. A God who loves us ‘no matter what’. Who made us to love him. A God for whom we can never be perfect but it doesn’t matter; because he never asked us to be.

God asks us to live. From childhood to old age to make the most of who we are and what we have. The word ‘Prodigal’ doesn’t mean bad or wrong, it means wasteful and extravagant, without the need for economy. The young boy, seeing his life before him, decides, maybe foolishly, that he isn’t going to live forever; so why not spend, spend, spend? The reality being that he is going to live a lot longer than he thought; and that he will learn that life is not always about the good stuff. But, he has to find out the hard way; and they will be hard lessons that he will never forget. He takes the journey down as far as it will go, but sitting at the bottom of the barrel, he sees sense and heads back home.

And I believe that, deep down, he knows his father will be waiting; he isn’t going to be turned away; he won’t be living with the paid servants.

Because he knows his father, far better than the older son.

He knows the heart of love that allowed him to go; the generosity that gave him his inheritance without condition; the grace that wished him well; the joyful love that will welcome him back.

He knew that love before he left. It was that love that actually gave him the confidence to go; to be free to be young; to grow up; to be lavish, extravagant and wasteful. It was that love that allowed him to make mistakes and so to learn from them. And then to remind him where he needed to be when there was nowhere else to go - because sometimes Home is not a place but a person.

Mark’s Gospel tells us to Repent and believe the Good News. We can’t do that if we don’t even consider we could be wrong, if we don’t see the sinner in ourselves. We certainly can't do it if we turn our sin into justification of more sin; whilst marking out the sin in others.

If we are not careful we will find our self-righteous selves standing with hands on hips as all those we passed judgment on will be making their way, faithfully, to their Father’s arms (a Father we have also cast judgment on) and the feast that awaits.

And we will still be thinking we were right.

wordinthehand 2010

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