I noticed it yesterday, but last night I had a proper look! Do you know that in the story of the Prodigal Son, not once does the father speak to his youngest son? He doesn’t say anything as his youngest son ups and leaves for the bright lights of the big city. He doesn’t say anything to his son when he turns up on the doorstep covered in rags and smelling like the pigs he has been living with. The father speaks to the servants to fetch things and to prepare for the feast, but to his son he says nothing at all! He doesn’t say, “Hello, son – it’s nice to have you back.” or “I forgive you and reinstate you as a son,” or “”Hmm.. it may take a while before I can ever trust you again, but let’s be patient.” He says nothing. I love words – spoken or written and in this story, for the younger son, there are none.
In one of the first year units at school we explore a whole series of lessons on symbolic actions. One phrase that we talk about is “Actions speak louder than words.” In the story of the Prodigal son there are plenty of actions. The embrace that the son receives when he comes home is awesome.
I wrote a story about Jesus’ encounter with the man who had leprosy. Rather than just stand at a distance and say the words, “Be healed”, Jesus touches the man. I thought so long and hard about that touch. I didn’t want it to be a light touch on the shoulder as he spoke, so I described an embrace. Here it is..
“There was nothing tentative or hesitant about his touch. He raises me to my feet and wraps me in his strong embrace. I inhale the clean smell of his robes and feel the roughness of the fabric against my cheek. The sun glistens off the pale hairs on his arms. I can feel his warmth seeping through his clothes and through my rags. Long forgotten sensations cascade over me as I stand enfolded. Just as the open sores of my leprosy break and bleed, my heart breaks and my hurts bleed out. He holds me close as I am drowned in a torrent of my pitiful and wretched tears. After a while I am still. I hear his heart beat in the peace after the storm. And we stand.
I am restored”.
When you are on the receiving end of a touch like that, no words are needed. Words perhaps would just dilute what you wanted to say. A cool hand shake, or a pat on the back that accompanies the words, “Glad to have you home, son,” pales into comparison. Give me that embrace any day!