Sunday, March 14, 2010

Today’s Sermon: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 ”Advice”

The Galilee Post, March 14, 33 Style Section, C3, Carolyn benWax Advice Column

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

My father is such an enabler! The problem is my little brother – let’s call him Prod. He has been a screw-up and troublemaker since he was BORN, practically. And the past couple of years have been the worst. It started when he decided that he didn’t want to stay at home and work the livestock. We were boring, he said. He wanted to go to live a more exciting life in the city. So he went to my father and asked him to give him money – the cash value of what he would inherit when Dad would die – so he could leave this “dusty, nothing-ever-happens, hole of a place” and go live “a real life.”

What a slap on the face of Dad! Cash me out, Dad, as if you were already dead. And oh by the way, big bro, you’re a loser too if you want to stay here with the parents and the sheep and the goats.

I was shocked – SHOCKED – when Dad just shook his head and say, “Sure, son. I’ll go to the First Bank of Galilee in the morning and cash out my IRA – never mind the early withdrawal penalties – and I’ll give you the money. Then you can do what your heart dreams of.”

I said, “Dad, this is nuts.”

But no, he didn’t listen to me, even though I’ve been the one who has helped out here with the livestock and all for all this time. No thought of what it would be like for me, without a brother to help me out as Dad gets older – not like Prod was much of a help, but it was better than nothing – no thought of how it hurt Dad to be treated as if he was already dead, for heaven’s sake!

So Dad got the cash, Prod hit the road, and we resumed our quiet, herding life out here. It was quiet without Prod around, sort of a relief, since he was always getting into trouble before he left, and we just did our work every day.

Dad seemed a little sad that Prod was gone, but I wasn’t.

But then one day after a couple of years, Prod showed up again. He was a mess. Clothes in rags, scrawny from lack of food. Was any of the money left ? Of course not! He had squandered it all on wild living in the city.

Now any reasonable father would say “Get out of here! You treated me as if I was dead, now I’ll do the same for you.” But my father? No. He told the servants to wash him up and give him some nice clothes, told them to prepare a FEAST. A FEAST, Caroline, for this slacker jerk! This from the father who didn’t even throw me a birthday party last year.

I ask you – is this fair? Do I have to do an intervention on my father, since he’s turned into such an easily manipulated old fool?

Signed, Big Bro

Dear Bro:

Is this about sibling rivalry? Did he beat you at a game of Risk twenty years ago and you’re still aggravated about it? I think you’re overreacting.

Dear Caroline:

Prod here. I am not sure what Big Bro is so steamed about. I’m home. I learned my lesson, and it was a hard one. People aren’t nice to you when the money runs out, and frankly it’s embarrassing to come home with your tail between your legs, thinking you’ll have to beg for just a few scraps from the table, since you’re not really a member of the family anymore. I was stupid. What I did was wrong. I suffered for my stupidity. So it was really great of Dad to welcome me with open arms and forgive me, and treat me like a member of the family again. I swear I’ll never leave home again, and I’ll even help Big Bro, that pompous jerk. So why is he so bent that Dad forgave me? Is he still afraid Dad loves me more than him?

Signed, Peaceful Prod

Prod, I’m wondering if you’re denying Big Bro’s feelings. Doesn’t he have a right to be angry if he thinks you’re getting more generous treatment than he is? Give him a little credit – he DID stay home and help your parents while you were living the wild and crazy hipster life.

Dear Caroline:

As the mother of these two boys, this present unpleasantness is nothing new. I need to tell you that they fought all the time as youngsters. It’s so silly. They have always fought to get their father’s attention. But he already gives them his attention, in so many ways. More attention, I might add, than any of these three give me, their wife and mother! Nobody remembers how sad this makes ME! But I’m just the mom….all I want is some peace in the family, and maybe some grandchildren.

Signed, Silently Suffering Mother

Mom, you really haven’t had a voice in this story, have you? I know that women out in the country where you live generally let the men make the decisions, but I suspect if you had had a chance to make your feelings known, you might not have given Prod the cash unless he promised to come home with a wife and a couple of kids. Am I right about that?

Dear Caroline:

It seems that I have all my decisions questioned by my sons (and perhaps a bit by my wife, though she’ll never say anything out loud). I love them both. Big Bro has worked alongside me since he was a teenager, learning to herd, learning to sell livestock, reading the weather, getting the flocks to water. He is my firstborn, and I love him with all my heart. He will inherit this business when I am gone. He is a dear and faithful son, even if he does get up on his high horse every once in a while. I couldn’t love him more.

Prod – he’s my baby boy. He’s wild and imaginative and funny and yes, he gets into trouble. I can’t stop loving him because he gets into trouble, can I? I love him, too, so very much.

I know he has made mistakes. When he came to me and asked for his inheritance, it was like a knife to my heart. I knew it meant that he would go away and I wouldn’t see him again – I would be dead to him. But then, when he came back, he was changed. He saw that what he had done was wrong. He begged for nothing more than forgiveness. He had grown, learned from his mistakes, he had become a mensch, a true man. So of course I forgave him. I love him! And I threw a little party.

Is that so bad? When an awful situation somehow miraculously turns itself around, you celebrate!

But this really angered Big Bro. Boy, was he angry. He wouldn’t even come into the party. It was like he was eight years old again, and Prod was six, and they were fighting. If Big Bro didn’t come out on top, he’d sulk. And now he’s sulking again.

You know, Big Bro thinks that I only have only one bucket full of love for the two of them, and if I pour some on Prod, that means there’s less for Bro. But that’s not how it works. My love is a bottomless well. There’s so much love that no one ever gets shortchanged. And if I show my love and forgiveness to Prod now, when I am so grateful that he seems to have turned his life around, why can’t Bro understand that someday he may need me to show him the same love and forgiveness for some mistake that he makes?

I love them both, and I love that silent wife of mine as well. All I ask from my family is love. If they do something wrong, turning away from me, and then realize their mistake and turn back to me in love, I want to celebrate. That’s joy. And that’s what I intend to do.

Signed, Dad

Dad, you’ve said it all. This isn’t about sibling rivalry, or fairness. At the heart of it is your great love, bigger than anyone can possibly imagine. That’s why you forgive, even when we think we’ve done something so awful we aren’t worthy of forgiveness. That’s why you celebrate, even when some think it inappropriate. That’s love for you, generous love…thanks for showing us the way.


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