The Prodigal Son
....To US Americans the story teaches personal repentance. To Russians the story teaches restoration of the family. To Tanzanians the story teaches hospitality to foreigners. (read Mark Allen Powell)
And of course, everyone is right. The story contains all of these elements. We don’t need to fight over scriptural interpretation – we simply must remember that everyone has a social location that leads us to read the story differently. In fact, being open to each other’s interpretations gives us a broader and deeper experience with the text. We simply must ask, “What does the story mean to me?” and realize this isn’t the same question as, “What does the story mean?”
Our cultural inheritance of glorifying self-sufficiency and personal responsibility allows us to ignore the needs of people around us. We’re quick to surmise that people deserve the bad things that happen to them, and think that only after sweat and tears will they earn a better life. When we use this mindset to cope with the pain of the world, we’re desensitizing ourselves – and that’s natural, that’s inevitable. But this mindset of desensitization leads to dehumanization.
Being judgmental is an easy way to desensitize ourselves, and going to church can make us even worse about it. If we come here and talk about how great our faith is, how we’ve really figured out the best way to follow Jesus, how we worship God so well, we leave self-righteous, proud, and quick to judge. So let’s resist that urge to pat ourselves on the back here. Let’s come here to build not our pride, but our compassion, to stroke not our egos, but our generosity, to increase not our self-righteousness, but our love.
Being judgmental is natural human behavior, but love is too. When in your life do you struggle with feeling judgmental? I experience it when people call the church asking for money – it happens at least once a week, always someone who is a stranger to me. Sometimes the person tells me “I used to attend your church, years ago” or “I’ve been to your church a few times.” Now I haven’t even been here a full year, so if they came years ago, I wouldn’t have met them. But sometimes people say they’ve been here more recently and this suspicious voice rises in my mind, “You’ve never been here! If you had, you’d know that we’re a cozy group and we all see every single person here on a Sunday morning.”
I quickly assume that the person is telling me that they’ve been here to win my sympathy. And I’m sure it’s often true. So what’s the next step? Delve into the details and try to pin down whether or not they’ve really been here, whether or not they’re lying, whether or not they’re worthy of our help? Of course not. Need is just as needy when it comes with a lie as when it comes with the truth.
Mostly I listen to the need, because truly listening to someone absolutely tends to a need – it doesn’t fill a hungry stomach, it doesn’t pay the electric bill, it doesn’t fix the car – but when we’re in poverty, in crisis, our minds fill with panic, our hearts grow frantic, and listening is an act of love, offering calm, respect, space to flow through the fear into a place of power....