March 31, 2019
Who were the people who wanted to shut Jesus up? The Pharisees and scribes were “good” religious people who worshipped every week and gave their offerings regularly. They were trying to be faithful and to uphold the standards of their faith. Unfortunately, “good” people often become self-righteous and judgmental. When those religious “good” people noticed that Jesus was welcoming socially unacceptable people and he was even openhearted to non-Jews, many of them were scandalized and angry with Jesus for his brash inclusivity. Are we more like Jesus or are we similar to the Pharisees?
For example, do we tend to be critical of youth and others who stop participating in church regularly? Do we give up on them? Jesus used parables to teach religious folks that God never gives up on the “lost.” Like the Pharisees, we tend to get defensive about our faith; and we want to dismiss, deprecate or judge those who are not like us “good” Christians. Should we give up on loved ones and friends who turn away from involvement in church? Developmental psychology has found that young people benefit from stepping away from their inherited and childhood faith so that they can claim a mature faith of their own. People who have been hurt or disillusioned by religious dogma or a group or religious person need space to heal. Can we respect their need to doubt, question and develop faith that is authentic for them. Can we lovingly stand beside them as they rebuff traditional Christianity? We can share our own faith with them? Not by bragging or condescending, but simply by telling how faith or our faith community supports us through lows and highs? As we know, faith is best demonstrated by actions and attitudes, more so than words. If we use words, we need to tell our own story in a way that can connect with the person who is turned off by traditional religion. Their experiences of loss, confusion or victory are opportunities to humbly tell them how faith helped us through a somewhat similar good or bad time. The good shepherd, the woman who lost the coin and the prodigal’s father never gave up on the lost sheep, lost coin or lost son. The sheep was lost because it was just wandering around or preoccupied with finding more to eat. The coin did not even know it was lost. The young prodigal son felt that he needed to find his own way.The good shepherd, the woman searching for her coin and the prodigal’s father never gave up hope and continued searching for the lost. When they found the lost, they celebrated with everyone around them.
If sheep have emotions, then the other 99 sheep were most likely grateful to know that the shepherd would not abandon them when they get lost, either. The prodigal’s elder brother might haver been too arrogant to realize that his father would not give up on him either, despite his self-righteousness.
In a significant way, Jesus was a prodigal. Jesus was extravagantly wasteful of his own life. The righteous religious leaders believed he was throwing his life away with concern for low-lifes, losers and non-Jews. What a waste! In what ways can we be prodigally wasteful in our generosity and caring? “Prodigal” also means extravagantly generous. Jesus, was exceptionally generous--like the prodigal father.Are we prodigally generous, too?
In the parable about the prophet Jonah, Jonah tried to hide from God when God gave him the assignment of rescuing the arch-enemies of his nation. No way was Jonah going to help the Ninevites! Are we like Jonah? Or, like Jesus, are we prodigally, and even seemingly wasteful in our generosity to aid all whom we find who might be lost or in need?
Howard Clinebell tells a powerful parable that I remember from his book that was assigned in one of my seminary classes:
The LIFESAVING STATION On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a little life-saving station. The building was primitive, and there was just one boat, but the members of the life-saving station were committed and kept a constant watch over the sea. When a ship went down, they unselfishly went out day or night to save the lost. Because that station saved so many lives, it became famous. Consequently, many people wanted to be associated with the station to give their time, talent, and money to support its important work. New boats were bought, new crews were recruited, and a formal training session was offered. As the membership in the life-saving station grew, some of the members became unhappy that the building was primitive and equipment was outdated. They wanted a better place to welcome the survivors pulled from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged and newly decorated building.
The life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members. They met regularly and when they did, it was apparent how they loved one another. They greeted each other, hugged each other, and shared with one another the events that had been going on in their lives. But fewer members were interested in the challenging training and now few members were interested in going to sea on life-saving missions. Even rescue training sessions were considered a burden, so fewer and fewer people took the training courses.
They hired rescue teams to do the life-saving missions. During this time, a large ship was wrecked on the nearby coast. The hired crews brought boatloads of cold, wet, dirty and half-drowned people into the life-saving station. Some of them were sick and vomiting. Some had black skin, and some had yellow skin. Some spoke no English. Some were first-class cabin passengers, and some were deck hands. The beautiful meeting place became a place of chaos. Plush carpets got dirty. Exquisite furnishings got damaged. The property committee immediately had a shower built outside the station where victims could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At an emergency member meeting, most members wanted to stop the club's life-saving activities, because rescuing people in peril is unpleasant and dangerous. Search and rescue operations get in the way of pleasant fellowship of members. Other members insisted that life saving was their primary purpose and emphasized that they were a life-saving station. They were told that if they wanted to save lives of shipwrecked people, they could establish a life-saving station down the coast. And do you know what? That is what they did.
As years passed, the new station experienced changes similar to the old station. It evolved into a place to meet regularly for fellowship, for committee meetings to plan activities, and for training sessions about their mission. But few went out to drowning people. Drowning people were no longer welcome in that new life-saving station, either. So another life-saving station was founded further down the coast. History continued to repeat itself. Along that coast today, you will find many meeting places with ample parking and plush carpeting. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.*
*Thomas Wedel, Ecumenical Review, October, 1953, paraphrased in Heaven Bound Living, Knofel Stanton, Standard, 1989, p. 99-101. SEE Howard Clinebell’s book on Pastoral counseling – intro? An actual shipwreck!