Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

For the Love of the Father

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. – Luke 15:31-32

Back on March 21, right before everything fell completely apart around here, Lileks wrote an amusing little take on the story of the Prodigal, playing on the weaknesses of human nature and the fact that sometimes people do not change.  It reminded me that the story is not about the lost son so much as the elder brother.

There are three little parables that Jesus tells.  The first is about a lost sheep, verses 4-7: 

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The second, verse 8-10, tells of a woman’s lost coin:  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.

Did the other sheep, the un-wandering ninety and nine, resent the recovery of their fellow?  Did the nine coins that had not fallen and rolled under the furniture become angry because the tenth coin rejoined them and occasioned rejoicing?  Coins are not capable of jealousy.  I have never spent any time with sheep, but I assume that, like most animals, they might try to butt in to get more attention or more food.  They are hardly capable of bitterness because a stray has been brought in.  I would guess that low and indignant umbrage is most likely, in the material realm, an exclusive feature of our fallen human nature, though it is doubtless a motivator for fallen angels in the higher realms.      

The original writings that have become our Bible did not, of course, have chapters and verses, yet our divisions for the purposes of convenient reference are not always completely arbitrary.  Chapter 15 of Luke is of a piece, and it starts off with this:  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Because Christ went out teaching and healing and offering hope to all, people who had rejected or been rejected by Judaism were drawn to Him.  Jesus was actively looking for the lost, the strays, the forgotten, even the rebellious, and the Pharisees condemned Him for doing it.   

The Lord said to them, “Look, these are Mine as well.  These are My sheep that have wandered away.  I have come for the very purpose of bringing them in, and I am bringing them.  You ought to be rejoicing.  This is what pleases the God you claim to love.”

That’s the point of it all.      

If we love God we seek to do the thing that pleases Him.  If the elder brother had truly loved his father and not been serving him for what he was going to get, he would have been happy to join the celebration – not necessarily for the sake of his flawed brother but because of the joy of his father.  Instead, the elder brother, like the Pharisees, was embittered by that joy.

I suppose that we in the Raccoon-0-Sphere might be accused of being too tolerant, too willing to accept the truths of any old tradition.  I don’t  think that’s the case, but I do think Christians can forget that, although the descendants of Abraham were and are God’s Chosen People and the lineage of the Messiah, He has always dealt with, spoken to, and called people of all tribes and tongues.  Righteousness and seeking after truth pleases God wherever it occurs even when it is halting and incomplete.  The revelation that came through Abraham’s Seed is the ultimate.  Many, though, throughout the ages, have caught glimpses and snippets and hints.  And God loved them. 

He loves the world.  We are -- every one, His children.    Yes, some of us are very far away in that strange country.  Some remain defiant.  Some are still carousing.  Some are broken.  Some are trying to live on garbage down at the pig pen.  All have strayed.  All can come back.  Those who are back, or who never strayed too much, if we love our Father, we will rejoice when our bedraggled, beaten brothers and sisters appear on the horizon.  However long they have been gone, wherever they have been, whatever they have done, we will be glad, first because our Father is glad, and for His sake, if nothing else, we will join Him in welcoming them home.


Rick said...

Great to have you back, Mush.
And a fine post 'tiz.

In me younger-drawers, I used to read the Prodigal Son story from the perspective of the son who left. Thought that's what it was about. And it was about that (at first, I mean, and properly so one should begin there, I think.)

But what joy to re-discover it by reading it as the father in the story. It really did change my life. When the father says "everything I own is already yours". I think: that is the way to be. That is the secret to real joy.

There isn't a wasted word in that story.

As to the other son, I was just re-reading Arnot's Parables of Our Lord and he said that the Prodigal parable was more commonly known as "The Two Sons". Hmmm.
Which taken a little further, may be reflected in the two men hanging on either side of Christ - aka The Two Robbers.

julie said...

I don’t think that’s the case, but I do think Christians can forget that, although the descendants of Abraham were and are God’s Chosen People and the lineage of the Messiah, He has always dealt with, spoken to, and called people of all tribes and tongues.

In my Bible study group, I get the distinked impression that they forget that with great regularity, in a well-intentioned sort of way. They are so concerned that everyone be saved (in the way that they themselves are saved, it would seem) that they don't even consider any possibility of different roads leading to the same place. I get it, but I think they could stand to unclench.


I'll second all of that, and what a good point about the Two Robbers...

mushroom said...

Yes, I agree, Rick, that's good.

About outside people seeking God, the one that really drives that home to me is Balaam. Clearly this is a guy who is not part of the Covenant People but is also clearly in touch with the One True God. He's a little out in left field, but at least he's at the right ballpark.

Balaam had to be an initiate of some esoteric path. He may not have known that YHWH was the One and Only and regarded Him only as a god. Still, he knew a lot about the Lord and was initially unwilling to do anything to get on His bad side. Balaam ended up getting killed only when he used his knowledge and spiritual insight to instruct Moab and Midian on how to seduce the Israelites. He couldn't curse them, but, through idolatry, they could curse themselves.

Rick said...

I made a mistake. Actually two of them.

Arnot was talking about the parable of the Sower in which he said that parable was more commonly known as the "Four Kinds of Ground".
But maybe it was a useful mistake :-)

The other mistake was to forget the other two brothers: Cain and Abel. All 3 sets of sons seem related.

In the key of Bob lately, maybe we can look at the 3 sets of "two sons" as modes of time. Example: Cain and Abel represent the two sons "historically"; The Prodigal sons as the "eternal now" (were parables are useful, since, when else would they be useful to living men); and finally the Two Robers as the two optional futures that may be for you. It's up to you.. Ebenezer.

mushroom said...

By the way, "ebenezer" means "stone of help" -- erected by Samuel to as a memorial on a battlefield where the Israelites had defeated the Philistines. It signifies that "God has helped us to this point."

mushroom said...

Sometimes the best insights come out of "mistakes".

Rick said...

That is really thought-provoking about "ebenezer" -- thanks.

'learn something everyday..
But as usually the case with me, I forget two things everyday :-)

Don Johnson said...

Interesting aside on Balaam, Mush. I was reading through that section last week and found myself wondering just how he came across the knowledge of the one true God. He finds us where we are, I suppose.

Brigid said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you!

mushroom said...

Thank you, Brigid.