A Fresh Look at a Familiar Story

Familiarity often breeds assumptions.

Whenever we have heard a story more times than we can count, our memories of the story being told mix with the story itself, until we are no longer able to separate one from another.

This happens especially with well-known Bible stories.

After hearing about these narratives ad nauseam from children’s ministry through Sunday sermons, there comes a point when we stop reading them for ourselves. They are old hat. We know them.

Perhaps one of the most common is the story of the prodigal son. It is that most common illustration from Luke 15, about the boy who goes off in sin and squander, a father who is so happy at his return that he runs to greet him, and a son that is so judgmental and arrogant that he misses the party.

You know the one.

The one in which we all despise and look down upon the older brother for being so full of himself.

Yet, the text does not say he was judgmental. It says he was angry. I think there is a big difference.

Judgment comes from a place of pride. It is the feeling that comes when we think we know better than someone else about what should be done in particular situation.

Anger comes from a place of hurt. It is the emotion that rises when we feel we have been wronged in some way.

The only other time the Greek word for angry used here (orgizo) is used in the book of Luke, is in the parable of the dinner in Luke 14, when the landowner becomes angry that none of his guests accepted his invitation. He is feels hurt and overlooked; anger is his emotional response.

In all my years of being exposed to the parable of the prodigal son, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the older brother painted with the brushstrokes of compassion.

I wonder if we read the text ourselves, without the preconceived notion of his arrogance, would we hear we hear his words differently? Would we hear the pain and tremble in his voice as he says to his Father,

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” – Luke 15:29-30

I wonder, did the older brother avoid eye contact with his Father as he spoke these words, for fear that he could not hold back the tears if forced to look into His eyes?

If I put away my judgment, if I stop assuming I already know the heart of this cruel and shrewd brother, I am able to hear myself in his words.

We like to talk about how much we love God’s grace. That’s easy to say when we feel how deeply we ourselves have been the recipients.

But I have sometimes been  hurt by God’s brutal grace. That’s right, I called it brutal. Can we be honest and admit that’s how it feels sometimes? That it stings when we watch others receive what we always longed for, and we feel left behind?

When we see a friend receive, without asking, and maybe without even wanting it, the thing we have prayed to have for more years than we care to admit. When we watch seemingly undeserving people get thrust into the spotlight while our hard work seems to be unnoticed. Or when God seems to show up so visibly, so tangibly, for everyone except us.

Have you ever wanted to scream at God in hurt and anger, “When is it going to be my turn? I have followed you faithfully. I have sought You. I have read Your Word. I have tried to obey. I have asked forgiveness when I failed. I have let your Spirit lead me the best I could. So why is my life here, and that other person’s life is there? When is it going to be my turn?!?”

Grace is not fair. The younger brother did not deserve a party. The older brother did. That is what fairness would have looked like.

I can understand why the older brother would be hurt to the point of anger.

Somehow, his relationship with his Father had to break open to a place it had not yet been. He needed to trust his Father not on the basis of His equality, but on the basis of His love.

That is a harder place to get to than we sometimes admit.

Until we are ready, God remains sitting next to us on the step of that porch, patiently waiting for us to hear His words of grace for us.

“you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” –Luke 15:31

A Prayer for Our Leaders

Psalm 72  

We long for Your help, Lord.

The people of this earth are crying out.

Intervene.

Supply our leaders with Your justice.

Establish in them Your goodness.

Provide them with Your wisdom.

 

There are so many suffering

Wounded,

Poor.

Defend them! Save them!

Bring these weeping children into Your arms!

 

Use Your might to bring down the oppressors.

Topple the systems that crush Your beloveds.

 

Bring into power

Those who will lead

With the refreshing spirit

Of the rain.

Sharing.

Providing.

Relieving.

 

May the leaders of this earth

Begin to honor those

Who honor Your people.

 

Open their ears

To the sobs of the suffering.

Fill them with compassion.

Motivate them to rescue.

 

Fill this earth

With Your deeds.

Fill this earth

With redeemed peoples.

Fill this earth

With Your love.

Fill this earth

With Your glory.

 


 

Solomon prayed Psalm 72 as a request for God's blessing and wisdom on His own leadership. At this point in history, I felt compelled to use his words as a launching point for a prayer for all the leaders of this earth.

Reading the news about the goings on of this world can be overwhelming. It's difficult to know what to do, or what the answer is. Prayer is one place we can turn with confidence.

 


 

That was my reflection on Psalm 72. Link up with your own post below, anytime in the next week. Remember, it's not about right answers, it's just about engaging with the text. Please take a moment to read some other posts as well. And then join next week for posts on Psalm 73.

 

the brutal language of Psalm 58

  Psalm 58There are times when the language of the Psalms seeps with violence.

 

It can be so difficult to relate across time and space to these words of the people of Israel. Almost always, when I come Psalms that are frustrating or chill-inducing, I put them in the, “maybe these words felt different back then” box.

 

Like the language of Psalm 58, for example. It is a community prayer against unjust rulers that uses words like this,

 

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;     Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions! – Psalm 58:6

 

Those words make me quiver. They are harsh and vicious and seem so different from the way we are called to pray in the New Testament.

 

And yet, I wonder how much of my reaction to violent verses is bound up not just in the time that has passed since ancient Israel, but also in the cultural comforts of suburban United States.

 

We live in a democracy. We may disagree with our rulers, or get frustrated by what they do, but we have options we can pursue to remove those leaders from power. Justice may not be divided equally and fairly to all populations, but generally, we are not violently oppressed by our government.

 

There are many places in the world in which that is not the case.

 

I think of my friend Chelsie, who spent several years living in the Congo. She now does a lot of advocating on behalf of their people. Not long ago, she wrote these unsettling words in a blog post about the trials that country faces,

 

“Tribal conflict and militias fuel rape being used as a weapon of war. 9 out of 10 women in Eastern Congo have been raped.”

 

Let that soak in for a moment. 90 percent of the women in Eastern Congo have been raped because of a fight for power.

 

I wonder if those women would find the words of Psalm 58:6 so distant. I wonder if the church there would feel uncomfortable, as I do, praying the words that close the Psalm

 

The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,     when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then people will say,     “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;     surely there is a God who judges the earth.” – Psalm 58:10-11

 

All of us wonder sometimes about how God is using His Sovereignty and Power. We don’t understand why He isn’t doing more to stop the atrocities taking place in the world. I can’t imagine how that feeling would be magnified if I was a person living in the midst of them. Surely the hearts of Christ followers in those places are crying all the more deeply for God’s justice to come.  Which includes a desire for evil to be swept away.

 

Though few would truly wish violent death on anyone, wouldn’t we also have a sense of gladness if those who were oppressing others were no longer able to do so? Especially if we were the ones victimized?

 

 

Too often, we try to force ourselves to feel the way we should about a situation. We know Jesus calls us to love our enemies. And so we pray words we don't mean. Instead, this is a model of praying that for which our heart cries, and then leaving the outcome in God's hands. And when we do, we can let Him get to work on our hearts, helping us to love.

 

The prayer of Psalm 58 is distant and brutal. But it is also threaded with honesty. The world is a hostile place. When we need to, we can cry for God to show up and rain down His justice.

 


Add the link to your post about Psalm 58 below. Make sure to read someone else’s post, too! Or join next week with a post on Psalm 59.