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 Potter




The day wind felled a weary oak,
we donned old clothes and boots,
took pails and spades in hand.

We ventured out into the brumy cold
to scoop red clay, harvesting Earth.
That night we sat around a fire.

Faltering flames dispelled the cold
that seeped through dense stone walls—
walls caching sacred secrets of a century, or more.

We worked the clay for days,
extracting grit and stones—
Gaia’s grainy cells

that would, ignored, destroy
our own creative efforts.
Tediously, we toiled for perfection.

And when the day arrived to mold
and fashion terra-cotta worlds,
figures formed of toil and imagination,

We discarded clods of mud
still clinging to our hands.
Yet now and then we’d find a pebble.



This poem is based on a memory. In the early 1970’s I lived in France as part of my training as a member of a religious community. I’ve always struggled with perfectionism–still do (to a lesser extent as I come to realize that the “work” I try to do on my own has already been done for me.) The small image below is where I lived, in Brittany.


Photo: La Tour St. Joseph St. Pern, France Maison Mere, Ptes. Srs. des Pauvres

Photo: La Tour St. Joseph
St. Pern, France
Maison Mere, Ptes. Srs. des Pauvres

Be Perfect Like…Are You Serious?!

Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Well, you know, Lord. I’ve tried that and figured out that it just doesn’t work.

What in the world was Jesus thinking when he let this one slip? Surely, in the telling, the anonymous author of The Gospel According to Matthew got the message screwed up.

Photo: V. Slotto

Photo: V. Slotto

Okay, Lord. Look carefully at these gorgeous flowers. Perfect, aren’t they? Well, maybe not. See that little shriveled one center, right? It’s either coming or going but it just isn’t as splendid as the others. However can you expect us to achieve perfection? Maybe for a moment in time, but not for the long haul.

I imagine an angel swooping down from heaven:

Let me set you straight, lady. First of all, it might have been a good idea if the gospel writer had used the word “perfected.” Perfect is a process. A process of becoming all you were meant to be. You can’t expect to achieve even a smidgen of that on your own. Next, apparent imperfection is a tool for learning. That is, imperfection in others and, above all, in yourself. Get over it. Forgiveness. That’s what you need. Forgive those around you and forgive yourself for not being what YOU esteem to be perfect.

And so I return to the seemingly endless job of editing my second novel, The Sin of His Father. I think I’ve read this thing a thousand times and still–it’s not perfect. Last night I received what I thought was the final proof copy and here I am, finding more mistakes. So, this will be the last edit. I know God is telling me to let it go, release it with love. After all, the theme of the novel is forgiveness, and I trust the typos or less-than-perfect formatting will be forgiven.

Are there areas in your life tin which you try too hard to be perfect?




This may be a myth, but I read somewhere that the Amish deliberately leave a mistake in their work to remind them that they are not perfect!