Return to Sender

Return to Sender

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

And he [Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two (…) The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.

A father had two sons, (…) the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living (…) Then he [the prodigal son] came to himself and said (…) I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”
Isa 55:10-10, Mark 6:7,30, Luke 15:11,13,18


Last Sunday the sermon spoke beautifully about the Father of the prodigal son, the Father who kept waiting, embracing the son with his love that never faltered. A wonderful story about coming home where we are always welcome. 

The story speaks to me at many levels1. First, I was jealous of the younger, more daring, brother. How I wished to be like that: wild and free, and then come back and be even more loved than before. But hey, that would involve being disobedient, and that’s wrong, right? I am a coward who will never make it to good ex-criminal with interesting conversion story. But it feels so unfair to be dismissed as unloving elder brother! Does God really not see the good in the elder? I mean, yes, the Father in the story goes out to the elder son, but we, the listeners, all guess how that ended, and we tend to say that the Father’s love was wasted on him. Have no love, receive no love. That’s how things go in this life. I wish there was another story, outlining how the elder brother returned to enjoying life with the Father. Perhaps I’ll write it myself, one day.

Secondly, other sentiments begin to stir. Have I not left a lot of my former religion, and so in a sense, my father’s house? Does this now mean that sooner or later I will need to come to myself and return? The question strikes a note of deep pain and longing within me. What if I just admitted my pride and obstinacy, my willfulness to see only the bad side of everything, would I then be able to go back and enjoy praying the litany as I used to? Believing everything I believed as a child, as if that were even possible? As the younger son, who said: “I will go back and be a slave”?

I saw the same longing for ‘home’ portrayed in the documentary One of Us, about ex-hasidic jews. They left their safe enclosed nest, for good reasons, but how painful that was! Some didn’t make it and returned to the safety of the patriarchal wisdom. Some sought new communities. At the most tender moment in the film a couple of ex-hasidim came together to celebrate shabbat and started singing their songs2. Deeply moving. What happened there? The more I think about it, the more I feel that we cannot make ‘home’ for ourselves. We need to build on traditions that were handed down to us.

And yet. We also need the courage to leave and go out. Isn’t “go out and be fruitful” a recurring theme in Scripture? Perhaps that’s why the younger son appears to be more loved than the elder. At least he began with a healthy good sentiment. At some point we need to grow up and go out and be fruitful. Leave the safe confinements. Don’t be like the person with the one talent who hid it. Could we not read the story of the prodigal son as an encouragement from Jesus, saying to us: “Go ahead, don’t be afraid, explore the world, even if you make lots of mistakes, the Father will not stop loving you, you will not need to be a slave, it’s okay, really!”

Then, we will be free to go in and out. Going out to enjoy and flourish, regularly returning to base for a joyful exchange and being together. 

Footnotes

  1. See also my other text Who’s in control
  2. At 1:05 in the documentary