1 March 2016
The number one gospel story for Lutheran Schools?
This is surely a much loved parable that has numerous twists, suggestions for alternative names and numerous teaching points. I have however, stolen my own thunder by referring to the Lost Son parable as part of last week's fig tree reflection, not realizing what was coming up this week!
For me, if I was searching for a gospel story to inform the operations of a Lutheran school, this would have to be at the top of the list. As suggested last week, it is the foundation for the Core Proposition ... A Lutheran school is a place where grace abounds. We see very clearly the unconditional love of the Father in action. This parable therefore provides us with a wonderful foundation and clarity for every day life in a Lutheran school.
Too often though, I find that we lock ourselves in to a standard face-value view of some of the well-known passages like this one. Further to my comments on the Lost Son last week, consider for example, this thought provoking view on Luke 15 from Robert Farrar Capon …
“… when the father embraces the boy who has come home from wasting his life, the boy never gets his confession out of his mouth until after the kiss, until after the embrace. What this says to you and me … is that confession is not a pre-condition of forgiveness. It’s something that you do after you know you have been forgiven. Confession is not something you do in order to get forgiveness. It’s something you do in order to celebrate the forgiveness you got for nothing. Nobody can earn forgiveness.”
I'd like to make just two other points:
In relation to the Lost son parable, one can't help but think of the magnificent Rembrandt painting of the 1600's Return of the Prodigal as an essential companion to any reflection on this classic story. If you have not had the opportunity to do so, can I suggest devoting some time to reading the great little book by Henri Nouwen:"The return of the prodigal: A story of homecoming". The book is the summary of the author's engagement over a period of several days with the original painting (and hence the parable). At least one of our schools displays this Rembrandt in a prominent place as a statement of what a Lutheran school is about. After all, when you think about it the central grace message of this parable is very Lutheran.
My final point is in relation to the dialogue of the Father with the older brother that takes place at the end of the parable. Robert Capon puts it this way ...
"The elder brother refuses to join the party, but the father won’t leave it like that. He goes out to the elder brother, and Jesus ends the parable with the father and the elder brother standing out in the courtyard ... The father doesn’t give up. He’s right there with the elder brother, aching for him as much as he ached for the younger one, the prodigal."
God gives up on no one! Remember also, that the Father seeks us. The Father in this story was on the lookout for the younger son. He spots him a long way off and runs out to meet him. He also goes out looking for the equally lost older brother. How do we respond to those who show contempt, arrogance, obstinance, jealousy or other negative character traits? More importantly perhaps, do we persist when our attempts to show people Jesus are ignored or even rejected?