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 my (southern) Baptist tradition, preachers don’t generally use the lectionary. If we come up with a decent reflection that’s somewhat related to one recognizable biblical passage, it’s been a good week. But these three passages together pack a powerful punch.
Some years back, I was surprised to hear John called the beginner’s Gospel. Surely the Gospel to begin with was Mark, the shortest and most likely the oldest, or Luke, with all those wonderful stories. John seemed to me a second-semester topic—or a graduate-level course. I saw it as an astonishing theological elaboration and re-presentation of the person of Jesus of Nazareth seen in the other books. The testimony of those sources needed to be heard first, I thought, before John’s majestically self-describing Christ could be understood.There was an additional reason that I thought it a mistake to hand the fourth Gospel over to “baby Christians.” I thought the book dangerous.
In Richard Powers’s novel The Echo Maker, a young man suffers a brain injury in an auto accident and is afflicted with Capgras syndrome. When he wakes from a coma, he can see and even recognize family members and friends, but he takes them for impostors.
As we move deeper into Lent and its emphasis on repentance, spiritual introspection, self-examination and self-denial, many of us choose to practice Lenten disciplines. If we have become involved in the season’s imagery and expectations, we may find ourselves reading biblical texts from a spare and minimalist perspective.
On Larry King Live the other night, a well-known Christian musician was telling his life story, and it was exactly the kind of story I prefer not to hear from the pulpit. As King peered at him through his owlish glasses, the musician told of being raised in a warm and loving Christian family and of discovering in high school that he was blessed both with a vibrant faith and with a rare musical gift. Eventually shaking off the dust of his little town, he took his faith and his keyboard and headed off toward the bright lights of Nashville, aiming at a career in gospel music.
Samuel, the Billy Graham of his day, was adviser to the political leader Saul, the Pete Rose of ancient Israel. Samuel anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. But soon (to quote James Thurber), “confusion got its foot in the door” and went through the entire “system.” Samuel observed Saul disobeying the explicit word of God, and it became Samuel’s job to inform Saul that God had rejected him as king.