Sunday, March 10, 2013

Meditation on Luke 15

(for future reference, a friend was encouraged to write a letter to his father with the idea of why do we wait until someone is dead or no longer with us before we tell them how much they mean to us).

This parable of Jesus found in Luke is popular not only for Christians, but also as a wisdom story shared and cherished by many traditions. It is a story so rich; so full of meaning. It is a story of radical grace and forgiveness. I was told in seminary that preaching this kind of radical grace and forgiveness would be the most difficult task as a preacher. So, instead of me preaching which only provides my feeble and limited interpretation, Let’s let the story “preach” this morning. Let’s sit with this parable and give space for God to speak through it Here’s what I propose: I'll read the story again, I chose to not use the more familiar NRSV translation of scripture, but rather the message translation so that we might hear this familiar passage in a new way. After the reading for about six minutes, I’d like for you to engage the questions found on the sheet. So everyone will need something to write with. The questions aren’t necessarily to be answered sequentially, but they can be. This isn’t a test. You don’t have to answer them all, or any of them. If you would rather engage the story by drawing an image or writing your own questions you can do so on another blank section. Or just reading the parable over and over. This is time for you and God and this parable, which many of us probably don’t get too often. Before we start, I'm going to point out a few observations scholars have made on the passage:

- The parable is told after Jesus has been challenged by Pharisees and scribes. Their job is to preserve a community’s sense of righteousness. They accuse Jesus of not just keeping bad company, but welcoming those they consider a violation of the nature and purpose of true other words, he is threatening their work. - A younger son could expect one third of the inheritance, divided up before the death of the father, but usually received at the death. (1Kings 1-2) Anthropologist and longtime missionary in the Middle-East, Kenneth Bailey makes the following observation in the light of this parable: ”For over fifteen years I have been asking people of all walks of life from Morocco to India and from Turkey to the Sudan about the implications of a son’s request for his inheritance while the father is still living. The answer has always been emphatically the same…the conversation runs as follows: Has anyone ever made such a request in your village? Never! Could anyone ever make such a request? Impossible! If anyone did, what would happen/ His father would beat him, of course! Why? The request means–he wants his father to die.” the action of this younger son asking for inheritance and it being given was unusual at best, extremely offensive at worst.

- After he’s squandered the inheritance and finds a job working among pigs is an added layer of his unworthiness, as Jews and pigs don't really go together...he is outside of the covenant (Lv 11:7; Is 65:4; 66:17)!

- The story is told in a way to convey that the younger son is living in extreme poverty.

The questions that I hope will allow this story to speak deep meaning to you during Lent. Do not rush, do not feel pressure. Simply sit with the story, and respond as you feel would be helpful. This practice is for you.

Sit comfortably, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and allow God to speak. I will ring a bell to signal the end of the time.
Q. What surprised you or stood out to you, maybe something familiar, or maybe something new?
Q. What is most troubling for you in this passage? What about that aspect is troubling? Sit with that disturbance for a moment...
Q. What was the father's reaction to both sons in the latter part of the story? What did this convey about his love for his sons? Consider the listeners: What might Jesus have hoped would been learned through this reaction of the father?
Q. Of the characters, the father, the older son, the younger son, with whom are you most sympathetic? With whom do you most identify? What might this say about your own spiritual longings in this moment?
Q. The party is what seems to really offend the older brother. If you were a next door neighbor, knowing well the situation with the younger brother, would you have attended the party? If you were the older brother, would you have attended?
Q. Using a word or a phrase, what one thing has God spoken to you through this story?


We actually ended up sharing these reflections as a community...and it was beautiful to hear the way Scripture came alive in this way. 

I didn't get a chance to do this portion of what I'd planned due to time. 

Okay, now, as if that wasn’t different enough. I’m going to play some music...
One of the most powerful ways I've engaged the drama of this parable is through a musical interpretation by the late Keith Green. It may not speak to all of us but, it has meant so much to so many people. I’m going to play just the last half of the song, picking up the story after the son has spent all his inheritance.

Again, as I play this, there is no pressure... Just enjoy the music if you find it enjoyable, the words are printed on the sheet. You may continue to write or draw or reflect as you feel led, Or just tune it out and bask in th reality of God's ridiculous gift of love joy and desire to party with us, penetentes.

Keith green, Prodigal Son Suite (was only going to play from 6:15 on--lyrics below to that section--but whole song is awesome):

I finally found some employment, feeding pigs on a farm, I wasn't treated to kindly, lo! I had to sleep in the barn, I had to eat with the swine, The bread I ate was like stone, It didn't take too much time until, I was dreaming of home. Oh, the servants there are better fed, If I could only have what my father gives them, I would truly need nothing more. Oh, I will go and say to him, I'm no longer worthy to be in your family, Will you take me as your servant, and let me live with them. It didn't take too long to pack my things, I left with only what I wore, And I prayed that I still had a home. I was near home, in sight of the house, My father just stared, dropped open his mouth, He ran up the road, and fell to my feet, and cried, and cried... "Father I've sinned, Heaven ashamed, I'm no longer worthy to wear your name, I've learned that my home is right where you are, Oh Father, take me in." "Bring the best robe, put it on my son, Shoes for his feet, hurry put them on, This is my son who I thought had died, Prepare a feast for my son's alive, I've prayed and prayed, never heard a sound, My son was lost, oh thank you God he's found, My son was dead and he's now alive, Prepare a feast for my son's alive, My son was dead, My son was lost, My son's returned in the hands of God."  

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