Saturday, March 16, 2013

Prodigal Son/Stingy Brother/Deeply Loving Father—A Homily in three parts

I left, what can I say? I was inspired—by scripture even.
Being the younger brother I always liked those stories in Genesis—Jacob besting his older brother Esau, Isaac getting the promise instead of Ishmael—they both got the drop on their older brother—and God willed it!
But just because God acts a certain way for Jacob doesn’t mean he did for me…
It was foolish—to leave.
I had it all, and lost it all…

Do you know what it’s like to lose it all?
What its like to wallow with pigs?
To hunger in a famine?
To hunger so badly…
To be so bad—the bad son—and to be so low that when  you imagine going home to your father and saying “I’m sorry” and you can’t tell if you are scheming or repenting!
When you get as low as I got you really can’t tell…

I had no choice, I had to leave the new home I’d made off in that foreign land—to return to my old home, not as a hero, but as a villain, or at least a failure.

Yet, there was dad.
Running to me—his Yallabi flapping like an embarrassed bird caught in a trap—as he ran to me.
He hugged me, and kissed me
I tried to give him my line—my speech—my apology
But his embrace swatted away my canned speech like it was nothing
There was such a largeness to dad.
Ring, sandals, a feast.
I didn’t come back—I was found.

My brother left us.
He sold off a chunk of the field—a chunk of our family name—our family birthright—the old homestead
Sold so he could leave us.
You wouldn’t believe how the people talked.
And not just about him.
They wondered what dad did wrong—
and if I was in on it—getting the other half of the land…
they even wondered if I wanted dad dead.
His absence—my brother’s absence—was as trying as his presence. Dad was stuck with a hang-dog look, staring to the East, to see if he would come back.

And he did come back—that’s the thing.
I worked and worked—I was…I am…the good son.
I was—I am—the responsible one.
I managed Dad’s land—at least the land that my little brother didn’t sell.

Being the good one is hard work—it takes so much out of you—caring for dad, even when it feels like he doesn’t care for you.
But that’s what I did, I worked and worked and worked some more—because I’m the good son who picks up the slack. I did what needed to be done.
And then, in the midst of the work I heard merriment and play. I heard a party.
I thought, naively, that maybe dad was pleased with me. Maybe he wanted to show me how much he loved me.
I should have known better.

It was him—that sinner.

I sulked.
I yelled.
I let it all out—how much it hurt to be the good son.

And after I was done, dad reminded me that the work I did for him, I did for myself—tending the field and the flock I inherited.
He reminded me that my brother had been dead, but was now alive again.

You love ‘em from the moment they come out of the womb, don’t you? Even when they’re bad.
It was a kick in the gut though—when he came to me—asked me to sell off the land that would be his.
It didn’t just leave the family farm diminished—it left me diminished too—I became smaller—there was a hole in my heart.
Especially once he left.
He went off to a new country—to become a new person—part of a new family… I guess that was what he was looking for. Becoming a new person—
denying being my son.

And I worried about him.
Worried day and night.
Until he came home—it’s still his home—it really is,
even though he left.

And he came, starting up with this speech—it might have been insincere, or maybe he meant it… either way I didn’t care.
I just wanted to celebrate his return.
So we did.

And then, my other son—my “good son” was sore, grumpy, just plain angry!
He felt like I’d mistreated him by being gracious to his brother.
What could I say to him? How could I explain it to him?
How do you let them know how much you love them?
How much you love them both—different kinds of love yes—different types for different sons.
Continuous steady love for the continuously steady son
Wild improbable love for my wild improbable son.
But love for both of them.
He didn’t see it that way—he felt slighted—but couldn’t he see? All that remains of the inheritance is his—think of his poor younger brother’s future!
And think about his return.
And think how amazing it is, that his brother who had been dead, was now alive!