Thursday, June 11, 2015

Being the Father

I used to presume that all the people I met were familiar with the parables of Jesus.  I had a strong Sunday School background and had heard the stories, drawn pictures of them and acted them out so many times that I had absorbed them into my DNA.  We live in a different world now where these things are not taken as given. 

I read a book once a long time ago looking at the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the light of Middle Eastern culture.  I was living in Cyprus at the time and many of my friends were missionaries working in the Middle East. Jesus’ hearers might have heard the same story that I read – the words have not changed - but they understood the story in a very different way.  The actions of both sons and the actions of the father have a different significance for people living in a Middle Eastern community.

Most of the sermons I have heard on the parable have focussed on the actions of the younger son. We are encouraged to see ourselves in him – the selfishness rebellion of wanting to do our own thing, the inevitable slide down to the pig sty existence, the hunger and poverty or our existence outside of the relationship with our father.  We have worked out that we are that lost son and that the father is God waiting to embrace us and restore our son-hood.  We often treat the parable as if it stops at this point – the younger son is home, all is forgiven, the boy is restored and it ends with a party.

I preached a word once from the point of view of the eldest son.  My testimony is not one of obvious rebellion or a slide into a life characterised by debauchery. I haven’t wandered far from my Sunday School upbringing.  There were few Damascus road revelations.  It’s the eldest son that whispers in my ear.  As much as I know that I am the younger son, I am also the older son too. I want to take folk to task.  I want some kind of punishment even if it's having them wait on the doorstep for a while. I sometimes worry that God really doesn’t have enough love to go around.  If He loves that prodigal son so much, does that mean that His love for me is any less?  I get into that whole quagmire of who deserves to be loved and who doesn’t – as we all do. 

How sad the father in the story must have felt to realise that he had not replicated himself in either of his sons – not at that point in the story.  Maybe there is a part two waiting to be written where both sons grow to be like the father.

A book that I am currently reading (The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero) explains the parable of the Prodigal Son in a chapter about living in brokenness and vulnerability.  He makes reference to Rembrandt’s painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. He says a lot about both of the sons, the younger one and the older one making reference to the picture, what they are wearing, or not, and their posture – but then he has a third section on being the father. 

“The church is full of younger sons running away…It’s also full of sons who are older and grumpy…The great need of our day, however…is for you and me to press on and grow into being mothers and fathers of the faith.”

I thought it was our job to be the younger son and come home and to avoid being the older son judging and condemning.  I thought it was just God’s job to be the Father.

I never thought I was being called to be the father – to embrace, to love, to be present for and to freely forgive those that had run away and come home, or those that never leave physically but leave spiritually. The father in the story might not have seen himself replicated in either of his sons but what brings joy to God’s heart is when He sees himself reflected in His children.

The father was once a son.  He might have been just like his younger son or like his older son.  He didn’t stay a son, but became a father.  In our churches it is time for some of us to clothe ourselves in the father and put aside the son.

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