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Monday, March 7, 2016

Lent 4 Prodigal Son Parable

The human person is an interesting mix of body-soul-spirit. The mysteries of the human being include our failure to know and understand our own selves. The human person, created in the image of God, is who we are meant to be (potential) and our truest Self. Much of the true self exists in an unconscious state, therefore, each of us must discover the answer to the question "who am I?" The great spiritual writers of classic Christianity typically contrast the "true self" with the "false self." When Jesus says that we  must "die to our selves" He refers to the false self. The true Self is who will be raised on the last day. For our purposes, we will call the false self the 'ego.'

If our Self at the spiritual core remains somewhat hidden, our "Ego" is more easily accessed. The ego is what most of us mean when we say the word "me." It is the person who interacts with the outer world. It is the point where the self is actualized and substantial. Our thoughts, dreams, fears, desire, strengths, weaknesses---all that is available to the conscious is found in the ego. However, the ego is expressed in a persona, actually multiple personas. The Ego takes on "a role" or "acts a part" in different settings or conditions. The different relationships we have impact the "who we appear to be"--the persona. The persona emphasizes various facets of our personality, so that is why people say "I saw a different side of you." When we see a friend at work we notice the difference in his voice and demeanor. A promotion always "changes" us. A parent looks different to her children than to her friends, because people act differently as parents. The different roles we play are an expression of our Ego (and by extension our Self). The persona in its roles, however, also shapes our Ego. We tend to become what we act like--behaviors shape character. We can over-identify with the role so that it becomes all there is to us (hence the crisis for many people when their roles change).

I want to offer the possibility that what is true of us is also true of our experience of God. The Heavenly Father is viewed through many prisms. We have countless stories about God in the Bible, and some of them do not easily add up. It may be helpful to think of them as outward expressions of God's "persona" in particular situations. The core of God, however, needs to be known and understood in order to make sense of the other information we have. Today, I believe, Jesus is showing us the true heart of God. It is not all there is to the story of God, but it is the most important thing to know.

God is the Father, the loving Father, who honors our freedom and allows us to go our own way. God is the Father of patient love and mercy, but He does not control us or our world. We start with this revelation of God to understand everything else. That is the revelation and amazing grace.

In the parable, there are two sons, each displays a particular persona as well. These are archetypes. The older is the obedient one, doing what he is supposed to (but seething with resentment and a judgmental heart). The younger is a free spirit, enjoying life and living it with abandon (but lacking in responsibility or genuine care for others). Each of them lives in us, to a greater or lesser extent, but most of us tend toward one or the other (and if you go to church it is probably the older brother). Both boys, in their own particular way, cut themselves off from the Father. One goes far off to squander his inheritance, the other, while closer, is still outside pouting, refusing to go in. Who were these boys meant to be? No doubt something much better. How did they go so wrong, each in a different direction yet both ending in the same place... alone and rejecting the Father? Because sin finds a way into the heart of us all, no matter our tendencies or personality. Each of us lives and loves in our own way, each of us sins in our own way. But sin is, in the end, always the same--rejecting the Father. Rejecting the Father who deserves better from us!

The heart of God is the faithful but broken heart of the Father who has found that all of His children find a reason to walk away. Too bad or too good for Him, we run our lives by our own rules. Many of the stories of the Bible are written from the perspective of the sinners. Imagine the story told by the sons. Would the Father not be to blame somehow for creating the problem? Would the younger son have spent years wondering why dad did not come and find him (before "he came to himself)? Was the Father's wrath (wanting to eat pig food) not the son's choice? And what of the "holy" brother who passes judgment? No kindness, no mercy, no compassion, he administers a new sadness to the heart of the Father at the time when His heart was finally joyful. See, the good son was not able to muster a moments thought about his dad, because after all, even when you are good it can still be "all about me."

Who is God.... I mean who is God really and truly?
I believe this story is The answer.
He is the Father who has given us everything.
He is the Father who sets us free, yet hoping and waiting for us to return. He scans the horizon and desires us, and seeing us in the distance runs to greet us and throw a party.
He is the Father who confronts our "party-pooper-pity-party-resentment" with the question, "can't you join us? can't you love your brother enough to rejoice that he has hope of a life again? Can't you love me when I have given you everything, yes, everything I have is yours, so can't you share my heart as well?"

Whatever else the Bible says about God, I think, this is the story that is the basis for understanding it. If the Father allows us to choose sin, death, suffering---and He does---it is at a great cost for His long suffering, loving, kind, merciful heart. This is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Waiting and hoping that we will come home, leaving the pigs behind. This is the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, trying to get us to have mercy on others and to come into the party.

This is our Heavenly Father. His heart and core and True Self. This is the starting place and ending place of any other kind of story that you hear about God...  
Repent and Believe the Good News!

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