Random Thoughts on Prodigals…

“Why did he let me leave in the first place?”

I wonder if the son who fled—we know him as the Prodigal—ever thought that?

Though I know this story from Luke 15 is (a) a parable, and (b) more about the radical behavior of the Father than it is about the son, nevertheless I found myself thinking about the son this morning.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a good prodigal.

Maybe the best there ever was…

Regardless, two things struck me this morning.

Question #1: Why did the Father let the son leave in the first place? 

Surely He knew better; the Father knew the son’s character better than anyone else. He knew what was going to happen. Do you think the gambling, the women, the lavish spending (probably on the ancient near east’s equivalent of Beats headphones and bad car lease agreements) just happened over night?

The Father knew what was up with His son.

And yet He let him go. Why?

Why not protect everybody from the pain—the hell—that was just around the corner. It would’ve spared so many people so much pain.

I think the Father let him go because He loved him; I think He let him go because He knew that maturity largely comes from making choices and experiencing consequences, as painful as that can be. 

And that, ultimately, only mature, free-choosing people can love. 

Love hurts (yes, Gram/Emmylou/Nazareth/Norah/Keith).

But in order to produce, loving mature human beings, a parent has to risk disobedience. That’s what the Father does, even though it costs everyone something.

But could the son ever learn to love without growth?

Question #2: What About Shame? 

If you remember the story, you know the basics: a son asks his father for his inheritance “early” (“Dad, can you go ahead and die? Yeah that would be great…”), and then takes off spending pretty much everything on those things—the same things that most of us would spend free money on if we were eighteen. He winds up broke, alone, and far away from home, eventually ending up working as a servant, feeding pigs and hungry for their food.

Assume, for just a moment, that in an ancient culture like this one, “honor” and “reputation” are paramount concepts…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this honor and reputation were visibly represented by a family’s father; it’s his job to guard that honor and defend it…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this son has succeeded in bringing down shame and dishonor to his family, in particular his father. 

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that—rather than keeping his father’s name “special” (“holy”, anyone?)—he has actually succeeded in associating that name with the worst of what humanity can offer…

… cheap, humanity destroying sex

… conspicuous and wasteful consumption

… immoral (or worse yet?) amoral living

… narcissism that doesn’t give a crap about anyone

What does the son do when he hasn’t kept his father’s name holy?

What does he do with that shame? 

But there’s something about the father…

I think shame is cyclical: we shame others out of the shame we feel.

We cast guilt onto others because of the hidden guilt we carry around in us.

But what if you feel no shame? 

Or rather, what if you’ve decided to break the cycle of shame inside you forever by experiencing the most shameful thing you can imagine?

How about a public death?

… an execution?

… as an innocent?

… as a terrorist?

When you know the worst of what shame and guilt can do, and you embrace it, it has lost its power. 

And you’ve broken the cycle.

This Father knows suffering; He will know shame; He will know rejection and death…

… and He’s not afraid to embrace it.

Thus, He destroys its power.

It’s no longer part of the equation.

Ultimately, He is not ashamed of the son, because His name cannot be shamed by the son. The son can freely forgive without shame or condemnation because he has broken that perpetual cycle. It’s over, and all that’s left are tears of welcome, hugs, and a big celebration.

That is all…

Well, almost all…

Like it or not, this was the first version that I heard of that song… ah the summer of 76

(p.s. how does that guy sing so high? maybe a combination of the leather pants and facial hair)

Voices

She asked, “When do the voices stop?”

I don’t know if we all have them—I suspect that we all do, these whispers that seek to hamstring and cripple us. They know the worst words, words that trigger all sorts of negative feelings and reactions inside us…

“Liar.”

“Failure.”

“Whore.”

“Alcoholic.”

“Adulterer.”

The voices always like to walk right alongside us in life, seemingly choosing moments of glory and grace to sneak around our defenses and do their dirty work. Their agenda is to see us shamed, nullified, defeated, and inactive in the service of God’s Kingdom.

What do we do about the voices?

When do they stop?

The leaders of the first church—our “apostles” (and New Testament authors)—knew a lot about “voices”. Paul had blood on his hands, presiding over the arrests, torture, and executions of early Christians. James never believed in his brother Jesus’ messianic claims. His rejection of Jesus was so thorough that at the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother Mary to his disciple John. I was struck, however, with Peter’s voices, because, well, in a sense he repeated failed—at times spectacularly—fora long time.

  • Peter so thoroughly misunderstood the ultimate nature of Jesus’ ministry that his friend, rabbi, and Messiah called him, “Satan” and gave him a verbal beat-down in front of the rest of the Twelve.
  • He drew his sword in Gethesemane, betraying his understanding of the nature of Jesus’ “Kingdom”.
  • While Jesus was on trial, being beaten and humiliated, Peter denied knowing him.

Those are the big ones. And if you know the gospel stories, you know that in spite of this Jesus has said that he will build his church through Peter, and that at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus restores Peter and forgives him symbolically for his betrayal. At this point, Peter has become PETER. Apostle Superman. The First Pope. Eventual martyr for Jesus.

… But there’s more.

In Galatians 1, Paul relates a disagreement he’s having with Peter:

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

When did this occur? Paul says in Galatians that is at least 15 years after his conversion. If Paul was converted between 31 and 36, then this confrontation—this complete screwup by Peter—happened between 46 and 51AD.

Jesus had been dead for almost 20 years. Twenty years later, Peter is still misreading and misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

When does Peter stop screwing up?

What are the voices saying to Peter?

“Failure!”

“You NEVER get it do you?”

“When will you ever learn?”

Obviously, I don’t know what the voices said to Peter. No one does. But the thing is, there was another voice that whispered to Peter as well, and it says very different things:

“Get out of the boat; I believe in you!”

“I forgive you, Peter.”

“Feed my sheep; take care of my people.”

“You can do it!”

“Trust in me, and in my Spirit.”

“My peace I give to you.”

“God loves you.”

Here’s the deal: the voices never stop. They never stopped for Peter, or James, or Paul. But every one of them chose to listen to the deeper, truer voice that also doesn’t stop. The voice that rejects shame, and that calls you on to keep. on. running.

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[o]37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[p]neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Keep running.

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