Today reading the story of the Prodigal Son and Father, I wanted to recognize something I hadn't before. I was set on the Father's demands upon His son's return.
Sometimes I strive so hard at living with the most excellent virtue, in absolute piety, in "Christian perfection" of sorts that I become more and more strained, confined and closed in. We can be so dependent upon upholding the rules and expectations we place on ourselves that we forget the relationship we were intended for. I think of the comparison between the prodigal and his brother. I think of the difference in the levels of intimacy with the father they both resemble. I find that in his brokenness and humility, the prodigal experiences far greater intimacy with the father than does his sinless, pious and self-righteous brother.
The true site of the Christian disciple is one of a man or woman who is able to praise God for all things, including his own sin, he who is not obsessed with the perfect portrayal of self and spirituality. She who is not complacent and shackled by a practical life. He who strives more for the relationship than the rules and understands that he has, is and will fail but can realize that God expects more failure from him than he ever does from himself. She who realizes we do not have to come groveling to God with a clear presentation of our sins and failures IN ORDER TO BE forgiven, but realizes the prodigal's father did not ask for an explanation, and Jesus did not ask the adulterous woman for an apology or confession. The disciple realizes that we will not be judged now or in the end for our sins because we have already been judged and found not guilty, but that God desires we show up in his embrace and accept his love.
I thought some more about the prodigal today. I have read and heard that story on countless occasions. As a child who longs for grace, unconditional Agape love, I cheer, with all Christians, for the prodigal and his father. We never grow tired of hearing this parable, and we cheer with delight in our hearts at the sight of the fathers unconditional embrace and the prodigal's humility. We imagine the prodigal's poverty and leap for joy at the prodigal's humble return. We see the prodigal lag his way home and watch the Father run to his battered and poor son. We go on the Father's joyful demand to get IPA and T-bone steaks with excellent joy for the prodigal's return. We read with great joy. We cheer for the prodigal.
We live like the older brother. When the story is read and enjoyed, I walk past drunken homeless people on the streets. After the thrilling STORY is over, I get pissed off at the people around me. I weep for joy at the prodigal's return home to loving arms, and then I write a scathing status update to someone. I get all caught up in the greatest PLOT of grace and unconditional love ever uttered or written, and I have the hardest time accepting continued mistakes and life patterns in my own family members.
I work hard to be the best Christian I can be for crying out loud, and here are all these people around me who aren't even trying. Here are all those people who do not understand that I am a Christian who wants to be all I can be, and they just go on like it doesn't make a difference. I believe in a God of unconditional love and grace and I loath the congregations who don't get it right. I am the prodigal here...not them!
It is not just a parable. It is not just a fictional thriller to read and put back on the shelf until the next time. It is a story that serves as a humbling reflection of the reality we live every day. Like every parable, it is easy to associate myself with the good guy, the hero, but I can ALWAYS equally associate myself with the villian.
My heart breaks when I realize I cheer for the prodigal and live like the older brother.
My heart breaks to know many Christians and I have disregarded certain people because they'll buy booze with my change, they got themselves into this lifestyle, or their parents were piss-poor. It breaks my heart the most to realize I focus more on HOW they got there than the fact they ARE there. I am broken at reading the story of the prodigal son and knowing the father did not withhold compassion because the prodigal chose this life. I am hurt not to find the prodigal's father within me and my friends; this father who realized only one thing in the moment. He realized his son needed compassion and love. YES, his son DID choose this life. His son DID use the father's money for booze, sex and other disgusting things. These are all realities, but the father chose to realize only one thing: his son needed compassion, love and relationship.
I am broken to my lack of compassion, love and relationship with the least of these.
Are these things excuses for these people's current life choices? No, but I cannot overlook the fact it just may be part of the reason. Never mind how they got where they are; the fact remains, these people need compassion, love, relationship, and Jesus, and I have all of these to offer.
"Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied and human eyes are never satisfied." - Proverbs 27:20 This is one reason that addictions are so detrimental. We are created for intimacy with God and that requires an effort on our part. It requires that we at least work on coming closer to his heart. We have to continue to get back to our center, our greatest love, back to the knowledge of God. We have to do this on a regular basis. If we do not continue to get our center, we begin to wander. Before we know it, we "open our eyes" and find ourselves in the "distant country" like the prodigal. Now we need a dramatic and drastic return to the Father, back home. But how much less heartache and pain to stay at my home with my Father than to have wandered slowly into the distant country in need of a drastic return?
This is why addictions are so powerful in our lives. The world offers us addictions because of their nature. They will never satisfy. I will crave addictions for the rest of my life. Addictions feel good, but they do not satisfy. To be 'satisfied' is to say, "I am content with this. This is all I need." Addictions, by their very nature, are never satisfying. That is why they are addictions; they will always vie for my attention. I will always desire them. I will crave them forever and I will never be fulfilled. I will constantly desire the world's offers because they always feel good but never fulfill the needs I have within me.
I need relentless love. That will only be fulfilled at my Center. That will only be fulfilled by my Father God.
If I am to be fulfilled, to be satisfied, to be relentlessly loved, I have to stay home. I have to meet with God and allow him to love me.