The “Perfect” Son

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

Let’s continue reflecting on the wonderful story Jesus told of the Father’s immense love for us. Trying to share the conferences I heard on the parable of the Prodigal Son became a daunting task that stalled me, so I’ll just take a few moments to share my own thoughts about the elder son–the son who stayed faithful, who stayed home with his father and did all he could to do what he believed  the father expected of him. I suspect that, if you are visiting this blog, you may be among those who still remain (or, like me, who have returned) home.

What Jesus is asking us to do is to stand back and take a look at ourselves…an objective look. The elder son remained with the father and worked hard–but look what happened when the younger brother returned home–that kid who had demanded his inheritance up front only to go and waste it on dissolute living. Big Bro was really ticked off. No, more than that, he allowed resentment to consume him.

Doesn’t this make you wonder why he bothered to hang around. I suspect it was because he wanted to get something from it. He expected a return on his investment and just couldn’t come to understand that the love of the Father is not based on what we do to earn it, but rather is a gratuitous gift, overflowing with love. Dipping into the Old Testament, I’ve encountered how the loving kindness of God shows up, again and again, in spite of the total infidelity of the Hebrew people, the people he chose for himself. So it is with us.

There are other sins, too, that those who are “good” sons, or “good” Christians may be guilty of–gossip, judgmentalism, pettiness, ignoring the needs of others, perfectionism…it’s darn hard to measure up to those demands of the Beatitudes. Yet, they too need the Father’s forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t really tell us the rest of the story. Did the elder son catch on and come inside and join in the celebration? I wonder. He would surely be missing out on the Father’s abundant love if he stayed outside and moped.

Note: In Rembrandt’s portrayal of the parable, check out the elder son. He’s the one standing way in the back, in the shadows. The artist really had a deep understanding of Jesus’ story, didn’t he.

 

The Wayward Son–the Decision to Return Home

Photo: arthurandteresabeam.blogspot.com

Photo: arthurandteresabeam.blogspot.com

Many of us go through stages in our spiritual journey when we take leave of our spiritual home and go in search of something new and different, or perhaps easier.

Grounded as I had been in my religious practice, I also “left home” for a while. It’s hard for me to understand what I was looking for, because I never abandoned my spiritual seeking–I just wanted to look elsewhere. Perhaps for something easier, and I found myself unable to live up to the expectations I had set for myself–forgetting that salvation is not about what I do, but what God has already done for me.

The son’s leave-taking, as discussed in my last post, was about himself, but also about a search for his own pleasure and a defiance of his father’s love for him. What was it that brought him home–the total destitution that he encountered–his hunger for food.

He had no expectation of being received as a son, but figured that perhaps his father would accept him back as a servant. He thought that since he was feeding pigs for a stranger, perhaps his lot would be better with the Father, that at least he wouldn’t have to eat the slop he fed the swine.

When I decided to return home, I can’t explain why, exactly. I just knew it was time. I had to come face to face with my own delusions, my well-thought-out rationale for whatever it was I was seeking. It just happened that one day, I decided I missed my spiritual home. The loving Spirit of the Father drew me back. Perhaps you have read Francis Thompson’s poem, The Hound of Heaven, a poem about God’s relentless pursuit of us.

Have you had your own experience of leave-taking? Of home-coming? What drove you away? What/Who brought you home? Your sharing may help someone else.

Next week, I’d like to take a look at the older brother, the one who never left. We may find out that he needed to fall flat on his face, too–like some of us have.

Note: On September 12, 13, and 14th I will be offering a free Kindle Give-Away of my novel, “The Sin of His Father.” Click on the title to take advantage of this offer. If you are willing to do a review on Amazon.com or Goodreads.com, I would be so grateful. Print copies are also available for purchase. Ask me about signed copies–victoria@victoriacslotto.com 

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Words uttered by his mother on her deathbed, a mystery about his father that she had not confided to him, drove Matt Maxwell to fear that he could become like this man he never knew.

Abandoning the woman he loved, his closest friend, and a lifestyle that suited him well, Matt made choices that opened him to an unlikely friendship and a new relationship with the God of his youth. However, the terrible secret he harbored eventually took him down a path of self-destruction and alcoholism.

What would it take to embrace his truth, accept himself and his past, and discover peace in the power of forgiveness and love?

The Wayward Son–the Leave-Taking

Image: spcnorfolk.com

Image: spcnorfolk.com

I have a confession to make. After introducing (on August 3!)  what I promised would be the first of a series of articles about the parable of the Prodigal Son, I faltered. I developed a psychological and spiritual paralysis, and for that I apologize. I felt it was beyond my ability to express, and it is. What I forgot was, it’s not about me. It’s the Holy Spirit who taps my keyboard.

So here is the next consideration: the youngest son and his leave-taking–that kid who was so self-absorbed that all he thought about was his share of his loving father’s inheritance and all the pleasure, all the fun things he could enjoy with it.

His request of his father: “Give me what’s going to come to me now, I don’t want to wait for it any longer,” was the equivalent of saying, “You’re living too long, Dad. I wish you were dead. I want my money now.” Yikes!

That is what sin is, saying “I don’t want to belong to you anymore. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” Just to prove his point, he went to a distant country–he got as far away as he could so that there would be no confusion in the mind of his father.

Isn’t it true that our culture bids us to always look for something better? The boy-man denied that he belonged to the father and lived out his own version of the sin of Adam and Eve: “I can do it myself. I can do it on my own.”

A lot of times when we read this gospel passage, we focus on the sins the son committed–wasting his fortune on prostitutes and debauchery! But the greater sin was this–that he left his father.

I don’t want this to be too long, so I’ll continue next post. In case you need to refresh your memory on this wonderful parable that Jesus shared, you will find it in its entirety in my previous post.

Thank you. Have a blessed week.

Based on notes I took during a Parish Mission offered by Father Patrick Mowrer.

Rev. Patrick Mowrer

Rev. Patrick Mowrer

Abba, Dear Father

Last month my faith community offered a Parish Mission–three evenings of “retreat” preached by Rev. Pat Mowrer of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The theme of his talks centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son–a gospel I’ve read and heard treated in sermons so many times, The saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” comes to mind. These three evenings gob-smacked my spirit–it was one of those moments when one can see something so familiar as though for the first time.

Using Rembrandt’s stunning oil of the Prodigal Son, Fr. Patrick divided his talks over the three days by person: the youngest (wayward) son, the older (faithful) son and the Father. My goal is to focus my next three posts on each of these. But for today, let’s just look at the underlying message of each sermon:

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

URLoved

 In case you’ve tucked the Luke’s account back in the recesses of your archives, let’s take a look at it. 

Luke 15:11-32New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

To prepare for the next few posts, I invite you to sit quietly with this gospel and adopt “beginner’s mind.” Read it as though you were there in the crowd when Jesus told the story for the first time.

In the next post, I’d like to share a few insights a la Father Pat…a new look at the wild child, the younger son.  I’ll venture a guess most of us will be able to identify with him to a degree–and yet we are loved!

“Catching Sight of God”

“Immediately, upon catching sight of Jesus, the whole crowd was overcome by awe.”
Mark, 9, 15 (NAB)

Photo: consecratetheday.com

Photo: consecratetheday.com

This verse from Mark caught my attention this morning. It occurs at the beginning of an account in which Jesus heals a boy possessed by a deaf and mute spirit that threw him into what we would describe as epilepsy. The disciples lacked faith to heal him themselves and Jesus got on their case for that before asking the lad’s father to believe. The entire story is full of lessons and points to ponder–but it’s that verse I quoted above that commanded my attention today.

Two points: the preceding account is that of the Transfiguration in which Jesus gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of his divine beauty–or perhaps it was the Father’s doing. I have to imagine that after that, Jesus still had a radiance about him that struck the crowd.

I’ve seen that among his followers, haven’t you? The knowledge of God, an experience of his presence in our lives, really does transform us and there is a certain joy, a radiance that shines through our physical person. In my work with death and dying, I’ve even seen it in the midst of pain and impending loss when there is an undercurrent of faith that supports both the patient and their loved ones.

Second point: we, too, can catch sight of Jesus in the unfolding of every single day…perhaps in another person, perhaps in moments of prayer, in those moments that we can cultivate when doing the most menial of tasks like laundry or dishes, during a commute, working in the garden where we can appreciate the wonder of creation and the need of the constant attention needed to pull out those darn weeds (guess what I did this morning).

Jesus shows up, sometimes when we least expect it…if we look for him. Would you share (in comments) how he took you by surprise today. Or is there an event from the past you would like to share. Maybe this will help a fellow follower to zoom in on the Presence.

Thank you.

Homeless

Photo: tomstoneartist.com

Photo: tomstoneartist.com

Walking down the road I saw a man in tattered clothes.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had led to his defeat.
Tell me, if you would, about this life that you have chosen,
or did you have no choice except this life, upon the street?

I handed him a buck or two and said, Here, take a seat.
Upon a rusted old park bench we hunkered in to meet.
You’re curious, my boy, he said, why do you want to know?
I want to understand you, sir, to see what makes you so.

That money that I gave to you, I know you’ll give to others.
I wonder, how do you survive while giving to your brothers?
A smile broke across the wrinkled landscape of his face,
the pain I’d seen inside his eyes seemed suddenly erased.

You may not really want to hear the story I will tell,
it happened many years ago—a place not far from hell.
The name, you’ve heard—‘twas Auschwitz, a camp they took us Jews
the horrors that surrounded me tempted me to choose

to take my life before they could subject me to a death
without the grace of dignity. I wanted to be free.
But then some words came tumbling from the darkness of my mind
Words spoken by a holy man I heard in years behind.

The teacher’s voice was strong, it traveled straight into my core
of all I understand of God, of what we’re living for.
such good there that can be done in Auschwitz late at night—
your hope can be a gift to those who tremble in their fright.

And what I learned back then—the truths that saved me from despair
I carry them within my soul, there’s so much need to care.
So I refuse to see my life a symbol of defeat.
Much good there is, my son, that now awaits me in that street?

The old man stood and shook my hand and left me with his smile
I sat, transfixed, upon that bench, alone, for quite a while.
Now I withhold my judgment when I see another homeless guy
and wonder still at wealth, within, that money cannot buy.

This poem, written a number of years ago, is based on a true story, recounted by a Rabbi whose name I can’t recall. For me, the lesson is to look for God in everyone, in everything.

Have a blessed week.

 

Two Scrawny, Dried-Up Sardines.

Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those reclining there; he did much the same with the dried fish, as much as they (the five thousand wanted. When they had had enough, he told his disciples, “Gather up the crusts that are leftover, so that nothing goes to waste…” John 6: 11-12

Image: Louise Carroll

Image: Louise Carroll

A reminder for us: never doubt the gifts that God has given us for the well-being of his people. Look what Jesus did with five barley loaves and a couple of dried up sardines!

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ at Heaven’s Door

 

Image: biblepic.com

Image: biblepic.com

This morning I awakened to the nagging sound of a monosyllabic tweet. A sparrow outside my window, no doubt, wanted to remind me that the bird feeder was almost empty. Now, I’m a great aficionado of birds–why else would I feed them? But this little guy irritated me to no end and it set my day off on a sour note.

It only got worse. My deaf, hyper little Jack Russell was in an extra-agitated mood when we took our early morning walk and everything, everyone who walked or rode by or flew overhead set her into a frenzy. To top it off, the landscapers descended on our complex and began unloading their lawn-mowers for their weekly grass maintenance.

After that, it was difficult to settle in to my prayer time. Even my Bible readings seemed to offer anything but comfort. And then God’s humor intervened. The folks next door (in an attached condo) began the demolition of a wall to expand an existing bedroom. The workers came on board with a steady pounding of a sledge-hammer.

Ironically, this was just the reminder I needed to hear this morning. Eric Clapton’s song slithered into my subconsciousness and I realized that it is in the little things that we can discover the Divine. We hunger for more and the only “more” that can fill us is our God. But beyond that, God hungers for us. He won’t leave us alone until we hear his knocking at the door of our hearts.

The nagging bird came back before my quiet time ended. The hammering persists several hours later. Other repetitive sounds keep drawing my attention–but now, instead of frustration, I can savor the reminder.

I don’t remember the words to Clapton’s song beyond the opening lines but it’s playing in my head none-the-less. Ah, sweet delight: here’s comes the lawn mower. Again.

 

“The New Deal”–Jesus’s, That Is

 

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

The readings I’ve been doing on my own, and some of those I’ve heard in church during this Lenten season, have given me cause to compare and contrast the new and the old covenants.

The Old Covenant between God and Abraham, then codified with Moses and the whole people Of Israel, was based on the law–the Ten Commandments and all 613 legislative details that followed. It was a sort of tit-for-tat deal–“You observe these and I will be with you. You are my people and I am your God.” It’s not news to us that this didn’t work out well for either side. As much as God, through the prophets, admonished and promised, threatened and taught, the people just couldn’t pull off their side of the bargain. Human weakness and temptation were just too much for them and try as they might, they fell flat on their faces, over and over again.

So Jesus came to earth. I believe it was to check things out and find out where the flaw lay in the Father’s creation. To this end, he allowed himself to experience everything we experience–but Jesus never let temptation get the best of him. He never sinned.

I can imagine in those amazing dialogues with the Father–on mountaintops or in the wilderness–he shared what it was like to be human, how strong the urge to disobey those commandments could be. Talking it over with the Father, merciful and loving, they must have come to the understanding that the old law was beyond humankind’s ability and maybe it was time to try something else. And so they started all over again. Perhaps Jesus told the Father that, if they were not going to give up on creation,  something was needed to provide a mechanism for forgiveness.

Did he then offer himself as the solution? Did he explain to the Father what it was like down here in the valley of tears to be confronted with loss, rejection, fear, persecution, physical and mental illness, temptation and failure? Did he then say, “I’ll take it all on myself. I’ll show them how much we love them by going through the worst kind of suffering and death we can think of so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. We can give them a way out–the gift of loving forgiveness. And let’s summarize all those rules into two simple ones: love of God and love of neighbor.”

Is that what brought us to the first Holy Week, the beginning of which we observe today? May our subdued celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus lead us to experience God’s forgiveness of our weakness, our willingness to forgive others and our gratitude for the immense love our Savior gives to us each moment of each day. And may that celebration burst out in Joy a week from today as we commemorate his glorious resurrection.

Are you doing anything special to observe Holy Week?

donkpreston

Homeless

 

Photo: Tom Stone

Photo: Tom Stone

Homeless

Walking down the road I saw a man in tattered clothes.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had led to his defeat.
Tell me, if you would, about this life that you have chosen,
or did you have no choice except this life, upon the street?

I handed him a buck or two and said, “Here, take a seat.”
Upon a rusted old park bench we hunkered in to meet.
You’re curious, my boy, he said, why do you want to know?
I want to understand you, sir, to see what makes you so.

That money that I gave to you, I know you’ll give to others.
I wonder, how do you survive while giving to your brothers?
A smile broke across the wrinkled landscape of his face,
the pain I’d seen inside his eyes seemed suddenly erased.

You may not really want to hear the story I will tell,
it happened many years ago—a place not far from hell.
The name, you’ve heard—‘twas Auschwitz, a camp they took us Jews
the horrors that surrounded me tempted me to choose

to take my life before they could subject me to a death
without the grace of dignity. I wanted to be free.
But then some words came tumbling from the darkness of my mind
Words spoken by a holy man I heard in years behind.

The teacher’s voice was strong, it traveled straight into my core
of all I understand of God, of what we’re living for.
Such good there that can be done in Auschwitz late at night—
your hope can be a gift to those who tremble in their fright.

And what I learned back then—the truths that saved me from despair—
I carry them within my soul, there’s so much need to care.
So I refuse to see my life a symbol of defeat.
Much good there is, my son, that now awaits me in that street?

The old man stood and shook my hand and left me with his smile
I sat, transfixed, upon that bench, alone, for quite a while.
Now I withhold my judgment when I see another homeless guy
and wonder still at wealth, within, that money cannot buy.

I often find myself thinking about the subject of homelessness, wondering at the stories behind those who face such a lifestyle. Eons ago, when I was a student nurse, before the decentralization of Mental Health facilities, I trained for psychiatry in a State hospital in California that cared for 5000 patients. It was a city in its own right, with farmland, manufacturing facilities and its own economic system. Many of the “patients” we housed were diagnosed as “simple schizophrenic,” meaning simply that they were not able to function in society. After the government released these people from institutional care, the streets were flooded with the homeless–and so it is today.

Photo: theholocaustexplained.com

Photo: theholocaustexplained.com

I wrote this poem a few years ago based on a true story of an elderly man who had been held in Auschwitz during WWII. It’s a tale reminiscent of the story of Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning–the account of a man who survived the atrocities of a concentration camp by focusing on helping others.

I’m currently reading a book about a Christian couple who dedicated themselves to helping their Jewish neighbors in Poland during the occupation of the Nazi’s. I can’t help but reflect on their willingness to put themselves and their family at risk and to realize that that is exactly what Jesus would have done. What would I do? And what am I doing to help the homeless?