AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
- To be notified via email whenever new content like this is added to The Parish blog, click here.
A 3-Minute Read
by Beth Nelson
We are so uncomfortable with extravagant love. Who among us hasn’t had the experience of receiving a generous Christmas gift from an acquaintance, our minds scourging us for having failed to buy a gift for them, too? Our hands begin the unwrapping, while every other atom in our bodies wants to scrape together something to give in return, or at the very least, a good excuse for why we don’t have their gift quite ready yet.
This is our Father’s specialty: love that goes so exceedingly far beyond anything we could possibly return. Like Jesus’ parables, maybe we’ve become so accustomed to hearing about it that its force is dampened. (That bumper sticker comes to mind: “Jesus loves you. Then again, He loves everybody.”) When we’re real with ourselves, we know we long for that kind of love. We were crafted and created to live in that kind of love, so it’s no wonder that we sometimes spend our lives grasping for cheap imitations of love. It’s hard to accept what we can’t return.
But this is what makes our God our God. He has to be superlative. He must out-love us, or He isn’t Love Itself. If He isn’t “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,” then He’s just like us, vulnerable and flawed.
I keep reading and re-reading the Buechner quote Jordan shared on Sunday:
We really can’t hear what the stories of the Bible are saying until we hear them as stories about ourselves. We have to imagine our way into them. We have to imagine ourselves the prodigal son coming home terrified that the door will be slammed in his face when he gets there, only to have the breath all but knocked out of him by the great bear hug his father greets him with before he can choke out so much as the first word of the speech he has prepared about how sorry he is and how he will never do it again, not unlike the way Sunday after Sunday you and I say in our prayers how sorry we are and how we will never do it again.
If you weren’t able to attend The Parish last Sunday (or even if you were!), I encourage you to read Luke 15:11-24 imaginatively. Use all your senses to enter into the story. Observe, inhale, listen, taste, and feel the experience of the father and the son. Invite the Holy Spirit to show you something new about this parable. Soak in it.
Like all Bible stories and parables, we don’t get the complete narrative. I wonder, what was life like for the wayward son after this? Did he change forever, or was he like us, constantly having to turn and re-turn to life as a son? It’s comforting to me to think that was likely the case. He really is just like us, vulnerable and flawed and making that same speech over and over: I have sinned against heaven and before you … (Or perhaps, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed …”) And over and over, his speech cut off by the rib-crushing embrace of his father, leaving his arms too occupied to search for anything to give in return aside from acceptance of an extravagant, absurdly generous love.