Saturday 11 March 2023 2nd week of Lent
With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture, the flock that is your heritage, living confined in a forest with meadow land all around. Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of Egypt grant us to see wonders. What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy? Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults, to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins. Grant Jacob your faithfulness, and Abraham your mercy, as you swore to our fathers from the days of long ago.
Psalm 102 The Lord is compassion and love.
The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’
Which son did the father love more? The one who took his inheritance early, wasted it, and returned humbly, or the dutiful one, who never asked for anything and resented it. Do we judge the younger son for his self-interest, imprudence, and decadence, or do we judge the elder son for his “what about me” attitude, his brooding resentment, and indignation?
One thing is clear. The father loves them both. They are both his sons. There is enough at his table for all.
The enduring character of the father is his compassion and abundance for both his sons. He wants both in his household. Not choosing one over the other, the father is seen trying to reason with both his sons, wanting both to join the celebrations, wanting both to recognise their kinship. When the older son complains about the younger, he demands to his father, “YOUR son!”, but the father implores lovingly and tenderly back to him, “YOUR brother!!”
Jesus confronted this same mentality. As the tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking his company to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said, ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
We see this often in this in the adversarial politics of the church and elsewhere. There are those who are for Francis, and those who are for Benedict, those for Trump, those for Putin. I’m reminded of Paul’s words, “I am told that there are quarrels among you. You say, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? [1 Corinthians 1:11-13]
How we see the world determines how we act. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes saw humans as engaged in a war with each other over resources, making our lives solitary, poor, violent, and short. This view of the individual dominates Western thinking. Society is seen as groups of self-interested individuals connected by competition with each other over limited resources, creating fear, insecurity, hopelessness, and scarcity of spirit.
A different worldview I encountered among indigenous communities, sees that we are all related as individuals, as part of a kinship-based community, and as part of nature, in balance with the whole. In these communities’ scarcity is unheard of. There is enough for everyone. The whole meets the needs of the individual.
As a church we risk replacing the enoughness of communion with the scarcity of division. Yet, we are all part of one kinship in God. Our mutual collaboration and respect are the only things that will preserve the future of the planet for coming generations, ensure there is enough for all, and bring peace to the world. In a recent webinar on the state of current geopolitics, I heard an analyst state, “history tells us that all wars end at the table, not on the battlefield.”
The Synodal journey in the church, and similar movements in the world at large, are signs of great hope for humanity. They remind us that the way forward must begin in our communion and include the participation of all, for us to lead to fruitful mission.
Let us trace our family heritage so that we can see how we are all have the One Father. All sisters. All brothers.
Let us be bold in finding the enoughness of our communion. Bold in our forgiveness, acceptance, and openness to one another. Bold in imitating the ways of the Father who has a heart of compassion for his children.
What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy?
May we be able to see with gratitude what we have, rather than be envious of what others have. There is an enough for us all.