The reign of God is like … a shepherd seeking one lost sheep, a woman searching for a lost coin, a father with two sons.
In today’s gospel we hear Jesus respond to the doubts of others around him by sharing three parables about the kingdom or reign of God. He doesn’t use that exact phrase, but context tells us that he means to communicate something about how God desires to relate to us. I only briefly address the first two to spend most of my time on the third. All three share a common theme: God’s love defies human logic.
In the first we hear of the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after the one that was lost. This makes no sense. Surely many of the others will be lost without his attention. And yet, Jesus is saying God’s desire for each of us is so strong, everything is risked for each of us.
In the second a woman with ten coins disrupts her whole life to find one coin. How can she rejoice about find such a small fraction of her wealth?
In the third parable we here what for many is a familiar story. A father with two sons, allows one to disrespect him and take half his fortune only to welcome the son back “no questions asked.” The father is foolishly lavish and forgiving. The dutiful older son is brimming with resentment because the father’s love seems an affront to fairness and justice.
This father-son story may tap into various impulses among the men of Carroll Hall. Many of us may have complex, sometimes difficult relationships with father figures. Perhaps they have been ideal parents; perhaps they have left us wanting, even despairing. Most men struggle to develop a healthy and life-giving way to relate emotionally to other men. It’s often indirect, sometimes communicated through competition. Seldom is deep affection between men openly expressed. And yet the need for the acceptance, affection, and guidance of men to other men is so strong that father-son relationships can determine the whole trajectory of a young man’s personal development.
The parable reveals more about a hoped relationship between each of us and God the Father and is less about biological and social fathers. And yet we cannot ignore the connection. Our listlessness and despairing attitudes, our hopes and dreams for a deep sense of unshakeable connection serves to highlight how much we need to be found. And often enough, biological and social fathers are at the impossible task of “keeping us safe from all anxiety.” The distance between these experiences only highlights what is at stake: everything.
As young men, we want it all. No matter how hard we try to hide our need for acceptance, affection, and guidance it never stops being an aching chasm of desire and incompleteness. Think of the ways in which so many of us men seek what is lost. For many of us its physicality; powerful forces like athleticism, phyiscal aggression, chasing sexual satisfaction. This is the body. By turning what is good into an idol we become slaves to adrenaline, dopamine, power. Some of us seek out knowledge and ideas as if they were shields; “if I am right, I will be alright.” This is the mind. We obey the rules as if they can save us. But they cannot. And then some of us commit to nothing at all. We can call this the heart. By never saying a resounding “Yes!” to anything great we are never able to develop that spirit and purpose we actually desperately desire.
Ultimately, only the Father can give us what we need. And by “the Father” I mean the Source of All Being. Jesus privileges “the Father” title which is there to open us up to an intimate relationship. Jesus is the Son. When we get caught in the stream of love between the Father and the Son, we are drawn into the Divine exchange. An exchange that transforms the longings of the body, mind, and heart into a whole person, fully present, fueled by hope.
Music: Wisdom and Grace
words and music by Sandra McCracken
Teach us to number our days
That we may apply our hearts to Your ways
Teach us to number our days
with wisdom and grace.
You’ve been our home and our dwelling
our place in all generations.
Before the earth or the mountains were formed,
Lord, You were God.
Now the span of our lives,
It is made of sorrow and labor
As the days pass away like the grass
How soon we are gone.
O establish the work of our hands,
set Your favor upon us.
O establish the word of our hands,
May Your kingdom come!