I was in Israel a few weeks ago touring the sites and meeting the people of Israel/Palestine. Our group was schlepped around the country in a coach bus driven by a Palestinian Christian man named Maurice. On one of the mornings, our bus pulled over to the side of the road. Maurice jumped off, ran to one of the nearby shops, and sprinted back to the bus holding two large bags of fresh bread that would be our lunch. Heads turned to watch this grown man sprint back to the bus, bread in hand. Marlin, our guide for the trip, made the observation that for Maurice to run in public on our behalf was a great act of service and humility. Grown men do not run in Maurice’s culture.
And so on Sunday, when Bob read about a man running down a road toward his let-down-of-a-son, I saw Maurice.
The story is the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). A man’s youngest son flies the coop with as much cash as his father will permit, and the father has to live for years with neighbors who whisper about his disappointment of a child, his sorry excuse for a son, just loudly enough that he catches the gist of their judgment. The father loses sleep and prays late into the night.
It is clear that the younger child has disavowed his role as son. His ‘squandering’ of the estate on sex and booze is obvious offense. It is less obvious that the oldest child also forsakes his role as son. He is found with the hired hands. He is tired of his father’s prayers for the lost child because there is work to be done. There are fields to tend and crops to turn into cash. And when the youngest son comes back it becomes clear that this poor eldest boy is just as confused about what it means to be a child of the Father as his younger brother. Henri Nouwen, in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son writes, “There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.” Perhaps this is why the story of the prodigal is so poignant even in its hundredth reading.
Maybe today you are the eldest child, working too diligently to lift your head and notice the Father’s proud smile. Or perhaps today you are the youngest child, convinced you are better off on your own. We are all both prodigal and eldest, running in every which way. Morning after morning we must remind ourselves that God is like a Palestinian man sprinting down the road towards you, wanting to call you child, wanting to hold you forever.
Bob said it this way on Sunday, “We are those whom the Father will not let go of. That is who you are.”