Maybe it’s just my imagination, but has the parable of the prodigal son become something of a bore lately? I know, I know, this is one of the most beautiful stories of grace in the Bible. And yes, I know this is a powerful archetype of human redemption.
In the little Georgia country church of my childhood, there was a story the older folks loved to tell again and again, laughing over it and savoring it and embellishing it. The tale involved a certain Sunday night in October 1938.
Some grow in their faith by imitating the faithful. Some enhance their faith through study. But today’s lessons suggest that faith involves discovery. Discovery happens in the moment when we shout, “I see!” In that moment we not only learn what was discovered, but we make our own discovery.
Lent is the time when we prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from death. So why do we begin by thinking about temptations? Because the temptations belong not just to Jesus, but to us as well. Temptations arise in every area of life, even for the most faithful, as we approach the events of Easter Sunday.
What did they expect when they set off with Jesus that afternoon? An intimate conversation among the four of them? A chance to talk Jesus out of that strange, scary stuff he had been saying about suffering and dying, about saving or losing their lives?
Keeping score and getting even—that’s what enemies do. Time after time the Tutsis and then the Hutus have waited their turn to get even with each other in Rwanda. In the last outbreak of violence, loyalty to tribe even outweighed allegiance to religious vows for some clergy.
I do not have a green thumb. I don’t speak to my plants. Instead I make them grab their throats, gasping for water, before I recognize their parched condition. Then I drench and almost drown them. This is no way to treat any living thing, plant or otherwise. Plants treated this unkindly are spindly and weak, anemic, with no strong root system.
Most of us enjoy stories about naïve amateurs who make bizarre mistakes. We chuckle knowingly over the man who complained about the performance of his new powerboat, only to have the marina staff discover that he’d launched the boat without taking it off the trailer, or the woman who mistook the CD-ROM drive on her computer for a retractable cup holder.
Early on, even Jeremiah could have located himself somewhere within Frederick Buechner’s pithy essay on vocation in Wishful Thinking. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” says Buechner.
Choose your words carefully if you preach to the people back home. Those who knew you will remember things that make many messages seem odd. Prophetic moralizing, for example, would sound hypocritical coming from most folks in such circumstances.