Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian
#Reconcilors is the reflection for March 6, 2016. Does God favor one set of people over another? What is the story of the Prodigal Son really about? What is St. Paul saying about our role as “Ambassadors for Christ”? Listen here in this reflection: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay # MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #TedNugent #BruceJenner #CaitlinJenner #GWBush #Obama #Reconciliation
Reconcilers: Podcast on 2 Cor. 5 & Luke 15.
Full Text of Podcast, Open Here.
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 3/6/2016 The 4th Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Luke 15:11b-32.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog about how to explain the love a Father in heaven has for his children, even his children who disobey. Today’s Gospel lesson brings the message home. The story of two sons, one who takes his inheritance and squanders it in living that is entirely opposed to the way he ought to live his life. The second son remains obedient, stays at home, and serves the family enterprise. In all the years we have read this story from the Gospel of Luke about the Prodigal Son, it never dawned on me that really both sons are doing the same thing, but in different form.
The first son is blatantly using his inheritance money. To ask for your inheritance money before the parent is in the grave takes some real nerve. It is tantamount to saying, “You, father, are dead to me, but give me your money.” To take the money after this insult and squander it in ways that you know your father wouldn’t approve is just, well, over the top. It is spitting in your parent’s eye. A father who would forgive this behavior is something beyond what we could imagine.
The second, older, son in the story is obedient. He is doing what he should do. He is doing what is expected, what is honorable. There is a catch though. The son is doing what is expected because he expects to be treated better than the disobedient son. He has earned his father’s respect. He deserves to be treated better than the younger son. In fact, he should receive better than the younger son.
So, with the return of the younger brother, the truth is laid bare: both sons are in it for their inheritance. One got his up front. The other is playing the long game.
The story about the prodigal son is not about the sons. It is not about the brothers. The story, in its context, is about the father in the story and the Father in heaven.
On the website MySpiritualAdvisor.com is a picture featured with this podcast. It is a picture of a man in a suit in front of the memorial for the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. He is kneeling, praying, touching the name of his son which is now carved in granite. Because the bodies of almost all of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were destroyed in the collapse of the buildings, this name carved in granite is possibly all that this father has left of his son. It is a sad and sobering thought.
We know nothing of this father’s position in life. He could be a rich person in a business suit who dresses like this every day. He could be a poor man who wore a suit to honor his son on this one day. We don’t know. We don’t know if this father and his son had a good relationship or not. We don’t know if the son lived up to the hopes and expectations that this father had on the day of his son’s birth or not. We don’t know. We don’t know if the son was working in finance, which would make some father’s very happy and others would see it as being a sell out. We don’t know if the son was working in international relations and trying to build bridges between nations or not. If he was, this would make some fathers very proud and others thinking his son was involved in a colossal waist of time. We don’t know.
What we do know is this: regardless of the kind of life this son lived, his father loved him. He loved his son enough to fall down on his knees in front of the last vestiges of what was left of his son. He loved his son enough to touch the name in granite and cry. He loved his son enough to not care if the world saw him grieve his son or not. What is evident from this picture is that this man, whoever he is, without country, without city, without history, loves his son. He loves him good or bad, rich or poor, with integrity or without integrity, mature or immature.
Does it really matter what kind of life the son lived? Is that what determines the love of a father for his children? As the father of five, let me tell you, the answer is ‘no.’ I want my children to be Christians. I want my children to love Jesus Christ more than everything else. I want my children to live lives that are holy. I want my children to live lives of service, kindness, love, generosity, goodness, and if I am blessed, lives in service to the Lord as pastors, priests, missionaries, or anything else that explicitly is in God’s service. Yet, if they do not live that life, does it mean that I will not love them? Does it mean that I will not go to them, eat with them, laugh with them, hug them, kiss them, find things about which I am proud of them? No. I am their father whether they want me to be or not. The father in the photo at the 9/11 memorial and I are one. He and I are one with the Father in heaven.
The question that Jesus is answering with this incredibly masterful parable is whether or not he should eat with tax collectors and sinners. Although Jesus would never approve of dissolute living, like the first son, neither does he approve of using the rules for self benefit, like the second son. He comes for the Jew first and then the Greek. He comes for sinners because the righteous should rejoice that he is coming for the sinners.
Last week Isaiah said, “My ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” This week, Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we reagard no one from a human point of view;…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” It is the same thing. God doesn’t think in terms of earthly power. The Father in Heaven thinks in terms of advancing his kingdom in preparation for the consummation of his New Heaven and New Earth. He began that New Creation in Jesus Christ. The work of Christ is reconciliation of the world and creation to God.
What exactly do we think happened to us who claim to be Christians in our baptism? Were we not changed? When we accepted the fact that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World and that included our life, too, what exactly did we think it was about? Did we think it was about us being good obedient sons who would reap the benefits of being loyal to our Father so that we could look down at all those sinners to say, ‘see, I am not like them! I deserve heaven,”?
Or, does being grafted into Jesus Christ in our baptism mean that we are part of the reconciliation of the world to God? Yes, we are ambassadors for Christ. We are Christ in the world. His ministry is our ministry. Hear St. Paul,
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
How can we be in the ministry of reconciliation unless we are like this man before the 9/11 memorial who lives his son regardless of the life he has lived? How can we be in the ministry of reconciliation if we are judging and condemning people based upon their tattoos, the color of their skin, their sexual preference, their racisim, their failures, their controlling nature, or whatever fault they may have? Equally as offensive are the diatribes and false accusations against President George W. Bush and President Barak Obama.
As religious people, we ought to know that the person to whom we are talking to or about, either Bruce Caitlin Jenner or Ted Nugent, is a person created in the image and likeness of God. Regardless if they have gone away and lived in dissolute living or have stayed around to be the self-serving obedient older brother, both deserve our love, joy, peace patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and our self-control.
If you were to visit a Benedictine Monastery worth its salt, you would and should receive equal hospitality regardless of your station in life. It ought to be the same in our local churches. It ought to be the same in our families. It ought to be the same in our interactions with people in the grocery store, the work place, the running of our errands, everywhere.
We are no longer to consider the world from a human point of view. The power grabs, the attention seeking, the rude and bombastic behavior we celebrate, etc., it may grate on us, irritate us, whatever, but it should NEVER make us behave likewise.
Take a moment and think of everyone in your life as if they are loved by God, whose love is given to you and for you to give to others. What forgiveness do you need to impart? What hatchets do you need to bury? What hope can you give? What love can you salve on the wounds of the past? Whatever it is, do it now. You no longer think like you. You think like the Lord. Amen.
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