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.

 

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?