Posted By : Rev. Dr. George OommenPosted On : October 07th 2017
The Journeys We Take and the Language That We Learn
Luke 15: 11-32
We are all in search of understanding our self. Moreover, identity is a vibrant issue in any community. I thought that a fresh reading of the story of the so called 'prodigal son' may be appropriate, in this connection. After all, all three characters, and especially the younger son, are all in a journey after their self. They are also seeking to develop a language to understand each other, in a highly conflicting and contesting context. Let us not forget that they are within a close community.
The journey of the prodigal son is easily allowed by the father despite his asking of separation, including his inheritance. That move, although painful and crisis creating, is not condemned in the parable. A person who is in a pursuit to understand one's own self and personhood in freedom, is to be looked at in a positive light. The one who is not in a pursuit after one's own self is seen, or could be seen, as a lesser person.
But the beauty of the younger son's journey is that after his struggle and perhaps, meaningful encounter with various challenging experiences, he returns. His search, at times quite lonely, was an existential one. Fundamentals of his personhood seem to have undergone transformation in interaction with other peoples of various classes and identities. It might have strengthened him. But the profound part of the parable is that when he comes to his own, he starts a return journey; a return journey to reconnect, and with a new resolve to be intertwined with the community where he belong.
Any self-search, which is not able to make reconnecting journeys, is a poorer search. His return is not for the sake of his father, but for the sake of himself. But it is also in search of the other selves. Of course, it is true that it also changes the father who endlessly waits at the doorstep for his younger son. There was a vacuum in the life of his father too. So our reconnecting journeys enrich our own search of self. But it is needed also to complete and compliment the search of others for their own selves and personhood. There is a complementarity and mutuality there.
I have a beautiful painting of the scene of the younger son's return by the famous Indian Christian painter, Frank Wesley. When the father and the son embrace each other in the painting, the contrast of the color of their bodies is so stark. But you see the white dothis, sort of merge in a hallowing glow which surrounds them. A sustained search and continuing journey are what we see in the father and the younger son. That is the sort of journeys that we should take in our lives.
In contrast we see the elder son who refuses to either join in this search or to share the joy of the return of his younger brother. Whether the younger one comes or goes is not my concern, is his attitude. The hall mark of the elder brother's attitude is the comfort zone that he has created around him. There is a sustained exclusion. What about ourselves? Sustained exclusion is neither a search nor a struggle. The brother who is not ready to reconnect is not part of that community which is in a constant search and continuing journeys of returns. Indeed it is a judgment of alienation and isolation he/we bring it on himself/ourselves, and in the ultimate sense, by God.
So let us earnestly and truthfully ask ourselves, what do deprive us of our self and identity? According to this parable of Jesus, the inability to start afresh our return journeys and our lack of readiness to embrace and celebrate return journeys of reconnection and of finding each other, and our non-enthusiasm to mutually completing each other's journeys are our perils. These are the things which prevent us from finding our own identity and self.
How do the father and the younger son achieve an embrace of each other? That is where the languages that they use come into play. Various types of languages are heard in this story.
In the younger son's journey we hear first the legal language; 'give' my share and 'separate' me. However, in his return journey his language takes a contrasting turn; the language of 'forgive' and 'reconnect' comes into play. That is a difficult journey that he has taken; to learn another language; from 'give' to 'forgive'.
His elder brother's language is a language of seclusion and exclusion. However, the most profound sound that we hear is in the language of the father himself; the language of love and self-giving. That is the language of waiting and embracing. But, let us not mistake, it is the language of an embracer of the returning son and his journey. In fact the father laments, according to the parable, saying to the elder one, "You don't understand". The elder son doesn't even understand or there is no effort to learn that language. That is the greatest poverty of his journey. Or his poverty is the inability to journey. What is our poverty? The inability to understand or learn that language of love?
Let us not forget that, the highest and the ultimate form of that language is to be found in God. We see that/hear that in God in the sending of God's only son Jesus Christ. Indeed it is God's own journey in search of humanity. The Cross is the cross-road at which we are invited to meet the loving God who is always in the journey to embrace. We need to converge ourselves with the journey of God, in Jesus Christ. It is there that we will find the fullness of our self-search. May God help each one of us with the grace to find our own journeys and the ability to learn the language that we find in God, in and through Jesus. Amen.