Faces on Faith: Sometime the runaway, sometimes the good one
If we’ve traveled Periwinkle these days, we’ve had a lesson in patience. It’s that time of year when visitors come to our islands to enjoy a break from the seemingly never coming spring up North. In order to get here they have taken a journey and while some may say, it’s the journey rather than the destination, most of these folks are happy to get to their destination!
In the Christian calendar this is the season of Lent, those 40 days of preparation for Easter. Lent mirrors Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. For most Christian churches, at least two lessons are read each Sunday. This past Sunday we read one from the book of Joshua and the other from the book of Luke. Joshua tells the story of Israel’s warfare and settlement of Canaan and marks the end of their wilderness journey of 40 years. Their wandering is over and now they are in the Promised Land where they celebrate Passover, the first celebration in this new homeland. Early Christians called the celebration of Christ’s resurrection “Pascha,” Passover! Of course there has calendar wise generally been a close association between the two primary feasts of Judaism and Christianity.
There is also a journey, or perhaps better a wandering theme, in the Luke reading which we used this past Sunday. For many it is a familiar one, the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” First there is the son who doesn’t give dad any trouble; is obedient and dutiful and maybe a bit of a “plodder.” Then there is son No. 2, who wants none of this dull life and takes off to “a far country,” where we are told he wastes his life and then comes to the realization that things were not so bad at home. Maybe he realized what Kris Kristofferson wrote about when he wrote, “The Ballad of Bobby McGee”: “Freedoms just another word for nothing left to lose.” Whatever happened in his heart and mind he decides to go home and ask his father to make him a servant?
Before he has a chance to say his piece, his waiting father runs to him and embraces him, kisses him, and puts a robe and a ring on him and throws a party! This isn’t fair the older brother complains you never gave me a party. I was the dutiful son while my little brother was wasting his life. It may not be fair to us, but then as Isaiah says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways your ways, says the Lord.” What happens here is really a story about a gracious father, more than a prodigal son; a father who reaches out with grace and love before being asked!
Most of us, at one time or another, play both roles in this story. Sometimes we’re the runaway and sometimes we’re the smug good guy or girl; the one who condemns the outsider, even when we’ve been there ourselves. But one thing is clear: God is always loving, always gracious and always forgiving and accepting and that’s as certain as an island sunset or sunrise.
The Rev. John N. Cedarleaf is the pastor at the Captiva Chapel by the Sea.