Friday Scripture -Luke 15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
So Jonah ends up being an unsettling story. No wonder our Sunday school teachers stuck with the miracle of Jonah surviving in a whale and being rescued by God! As Jonah, we are urged to live lives of reconciliation and forgiveness, with the both the courage to demand our dignity and peace to demand with love and mercy. As we have already discovered, God is much more demanding and even confrontational than we are comfortable with and faith as much provokes as it comforts us. Furthermore, the story asks us to consider that we have been the Assyrians and embrace the practices of confession and repentance. This has been a challenging week!
Which is why we turn to a parable told by Jesus, a parable in which he deals with similar themes of God's demanding mercy and troublingly wanton love. But it reminds us of the purpose for all this unsettledness.
The verse for today sets the tone. The prodigal son, having failed miserably in making his own life, squandered his privilege and fallen to the pigs (think the belly of a whale) returns home. His intention is to cry out for mercy (remember, Jonah cried out in the belly of the whale.) But his confession and plea are pre-empted by his father who has apparently been watching for him all along. We get the impression that the father has left all other household duties behind and devoted himself to watchful, hopeful waiting for the return of his ungrateful son. And when he catches a glimpse of his son, he runs to greet him. This is meaningful for a couple of reasons. First, the father is wealthy and a man of high esteem in the community. Running is NOT a dignified action, especially running to the son who has treated him so shamefully. But he does run. Some have suggested that he runs not only out of emotion and affection, but to protect his son. The son's demand for his portion of inheritance would have caused economic distress among the other household members and their families. They would not have been happy to see him return having wasted all that money. He took money out of their pockets and treated them all with disrespect. So his father runs to shield him from their (justified?) anger and vitriol. The next thing we know the father is bestowing gifts (more wealth wasted some might say) and planning parties (throwing good money after bad, the neighbors think). But this is the point Jesus makes. The father is, of course, God. And God's mission great desire, the purpose of all God's unsettling, interrupting, insistent action, inconveniencing us, is to get to this point, a joyful reunion with God's beloved creation. It is reconciliation, a happy family reunion that drives God. And that is the point of all this. That we are the agents of this overwhelmingly generous invitation. No matter who you are and where you've been or what you've done, God just wants you to come home.
It is, of course, troubling to think that God just wants the Assyrians to come home. They have wandered far, and fallen into deep darkness and done shameful harmful things. And this is why the older brother is none too pleased. He is the Jonah in this story. He resists this gracious embrace and wants nothing to do with it. It's too much. It's undeserved. It isn't fair. But there it is. And it is hauntingly beautiful news. That God would go to such great lengths and forgive so shamelessly. This is what all that we have waded through this week brings us too. The risk of forgiveness, the challenge of confrontation, the trial of confession and repentance, the test of God's insistent interruption of our plans for God's own… all focused on a joyful family reunion, the creation of a wholesome community where none are left out or left behind. And yes, it is utopian. But in our times, it is certainly a better dream than the ongoing fear, anger, and division we are presented with.