I am indebted to Amy-Jill Levine’s book “short stories by Jesus” and Bernard Brandon Scott’s book “Hear Then the Parable” for challenging me to look beyond the Christian bias of interpreting Jesus’ parables through the lens of the repentance and forgiveness and attempting to hear this story in ways more in keeping with Judaism.
Following the reading of the three parables of the Lost from Luke 15, we watched the video “Prodigal” before the sermon (text below). You can watch the video below and then listen to the sermon here
I love a happy ending.
Who doesn’t love the kind of ending that sees those who are lost found.
Reconciliation is a beautiful thing.
Home, safe in the arms of a loving parent.
Who doesn’t long to be Welcomed.
We recognize the longing because it resides deep inside the darkest places of who we are, who we will always be; children trying to find our way, children longing to be welcomed, embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home.
Is it any wonder that we love a happy ending.
But this is not the happy ending that we long for because this is not the end of the story.
“A man had two sons…”
Our story does not end with the welcome embrace.
The embrace is just the beginning of our story.
All was not forgotten.
It never is.
The pain of past hurts remains.
That hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation is ongoing.
There is more than one child in this story.
This parent has two children.
Imagine for a moment that you are the elder child.
Obviously you are the wise one, the good one, the one who did the right thing, the one who can be counted upon, trusted, looked up to.
Here we are trying to make our way in the world.
Struggling to take care of things, to pay the bills, to ensure that everything is in its proper place, striving to do the right thing.
We too long for happy endings, to be welcomed,embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home.
What separates us from the irresponsible, spendthrifts, who foolishly waste what they have been given, what separates us from them, is that we have the good sense to keep our noses to the grindstone, to always strive to do the right thing.
And yet, no matter how hard we try, how much we forgo in order to be who we know we ought to be, no matter what success we might achieve, we are in the end, just children, longing to be loved.
So, who could blame us for wanting justice?
We just want what is right.
We need to know that all our efforts are worth at least a sense of order to things.
We’ve all felt the pain of betrayal.
A member of our family, a sister, a brother, or a member of our tribe, a loved one, a friend, who disrupts our world with their needs, their wants, who shatters our sense of right and wrong;
a pain so deep we cannot begin to imagine how we can ever recover.
We long for the happy ending.
We wish we could just find a way to forgive and forget.
But it just seems so very wrong to let go.
And the hard work of healing is more than we can begin to contemplate.
So, we set ourselves apart.
We stand outside of events.
And we have every right to do so.
After all, we did what was right, what was just, what was called for, we have nothing to apologize for.
But there they are, the source of our pain, right there as large as life.
What are we to do?
How are we expected to forgive and forget?
It’s too much.
A man had two sons.
A parent had two children.
A woman had two friends.
A man had two loves.
A person had two people needing to be welcomed, cared for, loved, reconciled.
Our story does not end with the welcome embrace, our story begins with the welcome embrace.
The had work of reconciliation is the story’s next chapter, not the final chapter by any means, just the next in a long line of chapters that will include all sorts of gestures, kindnesses, apologies, starting overs, mistakes, offences, delicate negations, concessions, ultimatums, joys, sorrows, tears, laughter, arguments, and make ups.
The hard work of living together and apart, welcoming and good-byes, embraces and refraining from embracing.
It is called life; life in community with people who share our longing to be welcomed, embraced, held, loved, reconciled, celebrated, home.
So, here we are.
We can almost hear those white sheets of surrender flapping in the wind.
What are we to do?
There they are standing there embracing one another as if nothing had happened.
Here we stand, knowing how well we have behaved, how right we are.
What are we to do?
Do we go into the party?
What are we to make of the one who has wounded us?
How do we respond to the One who is welcoming our betrayer with a loving embrace?
Does it matter that our betrayer hasn’t truly repented?
Does it matter that they don’t appear to have changed their ways?
What about the injustice?
How do we repair the damage?
What will become of everything we have worked for?
Where will it all end?
The scandal of Jesus’ parable is that we don’t get any answers to these questions.
Just a fatted calf, a party, a bbq if you will.
What are we left to do?
Go in and have lunch.
Set aside our need for repentance and forgiveness and simply enter into the party.
When it comes to families, there are factors other than repentance and forgiveness that hold us together.
The sheep and the coin did not nor could they repent.
But the celebration happened nonetheless,
because the man and the woman were able to rejoice at the finding of the lost and the restoring of wholeness.
Sometimes the one we have lost is right under our nose, sometimes we are the ones who are lost.
Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate what has been found and then work to ensure that what has been found will never be lost again.
Don’t wait until you receive an apology, you may never get one.
Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find forgiveness.
Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past.
Instead, go have lunch.
Go celebrate, and invite others to join you.
If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better.
And if not, you still have done what is necessary.
You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation.
You will have opened a second chance for wholeness.
Take advantage of resurrection—it is unlikely to happen often.
What counts for the family also counts for the world.
So let us go into the party and dance, dance the dance of life, dance the dance of love.
It’s a complicated dance, but once you catch on to the rhythms of the music you’ll figure out the steps, and even if you look a little silly, waving and flapping about, your moves will lighten everyone’s load and help the party to be just that much more enjoyable, for everyone.
I am indebted to Amy-Jill Levine’s book “short stories by Jesus” and Bernard Brandon Scott’s book “Hear Then the Parable” for challenging to look beyond the Christian bias of interpreting Jesus’ parables through the lens of the repentance and forgiveness and attempting to hear this story in ways more in keeping with Judaism.
Following the reading of the three parables of the Lost from Luke 15, we watched the video “Prodigal” before the sermon. You can watch the video below and then listen to the sermon here
Three years ago, when Luke 15 came up in the lectionary, I tried something very different – in place of the sermon I tried an interactive exercise designed to help the congregation experience the parable. I was inspired by a lecture I heard down in Chautauqua when Jewish New Testament Scholar, Amy-Jill Levine was exploring the parables.
You can watch Amy-Jill Levine’s lecture which inspired me to challenge the congregation to move beyond allegorizing this parable here (look real close and you’ll see me down near the front, just soaking it al in!