The Reverend Richard Alan Helmersen D.D.
The Four Gospels, Final Essay
Although my perception of God has changed through the years, on a personal level, I still find comfort in the notion of God as loving and caring regardless of the way we humans respond to that love. I began my ministerial career more than thirty years ago with a sermon centered on the parable of the prodigal son, and the story still resonates with me today. It is a simple illustration of the agape principle of love that requires nothing in return, and we can find practical applications in our life as we relate to others.
Being a parent and a teacher of teenager's tests that principle daily. Teens are going through great changes and frequently show little consideration toward authority figures or anybody else, yet as parents and teachers we are called to love and understanding regardless of the way our teens treat us. Jesus' stories are powerful because they are real. In this story, a young man shows a typical lack of consideration, yet his father allows him the freedom to explore and learn. There is never a sense of anger, but only one of sadness that his son has chosen a difficult path. As God loves us regardless of our actions, we need to respond in love rather than anger when our children behave in ways that are not thoughtful.
As is frequently the case with people who have made unwise choices, the young man lost all his money and found himself hungry and doing a job that was unacceptable to a Jew, caring for pigs, which would be considered unclean. He soon came to his senses and returned to his father, hoping to be employed as a farm laborer, because he knew his father was fair and he would be better off working for him than starving in a foreign country dealing with unclean animals.
As parents, we have to allow bad choices to have their normal consequences, allowing children to make mistakes and pay for those mistakes. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't give good advice and encouragement, but teens don't always listen to that advice. We don't know the path of our children and there may be lessons that need to be learned. After giving the best advice and support we can, we have to turn them over to God. God took care of the prodigal son and will take care of our children. When they return to their senses, we need to be there for them as the father in the example was there for his son, and God is there for us.
This story doesn't just apply to us as parents or teachers, but it can apply to all interactions during our busy days. In everything we do, we need to respond to others in love rather than anger. If God is personified as love and we are all children of God, every action we take reflects that family relationship. We are in effect the eyes and ears, mouth, arms and legs, of God. The Kingdom of God is among us and we are the ones to bring that about. The only way that the Kingdom of God can become a reality in our lives is for us to behave out of love when responding to those around us who may not remember who they truly are. When we respond in love, we create a better world. Shalom.
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