CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©
I get excited when I learn something about the scriptural world that throws light on something Jesus said or did, so that I can see him better, understand HIS world better so that I can understand better how to live his way in MY world. [Whee! That’s a lot of “betters” for one sentence.]
Last Sunday I got to hear Bob Hammel, the great Hall of Fame sports writer, preach. He always preaches on Father’s Day, at the Presbyterian church where he has attended for over 40 years, and where he is an Elder. He did a wonderful job, in the aftermath of the church shootings in South Carolina, in a sermon titled “A Father’s Plea for Peace.”
Bob and Julie’s daughter, Jane, did the “children’s time.” In it, she told of something she had just learned about the Prodigal Son, whose name was Todd. [No, that wasn’t the new fact. I just think all Bible characters should have names, so I provide them. The Prodigal Son is Todd. Peter’s mother in law is Mavis. Etc.] Jane said that one of the reasons Todd’s father watched for him so anxiously, and ran so quickly to meet him, was to protect him.
There is something in human nature that wants to punish those who break the rules. Not rehabilitate them, but punish them. Not get them to straighten up and fly right, but punish them. Not educate them into better ways, but punish them. It’s not about the rules, it’s about the satisfaction of punishing. Only psychologists acknowledge this. Those of us who do the punishing claim it is rehabilitation, that it is for the good of those being punished, that it hurts us more than them, or we do it because we are good citizens, or because justice demands it, but the truth is, we just like punishing others. It makes us feel important and powerful and righteous. So we think up rules we can apply to them so we can punish them.
Todd’s father ran to meet him to save him from punishment. Punishment in Jesus’s day was severe. The good citizens of Todd’s home village had the right, yea, even the responsibility, to punish Todd for what he had done. He had broken a major commandment. He had not honored his father and mother. Indeed, he had totally dishonored his father. It was his father’s money he had spent on booze and whores. It was in the clothes his father had paid for that he slept with forbidden and unclean pigs. As soon as they saw him coming, out came the stones, the big ones, the ones that meant death. Todd’s father ran so hard, so fast, to save his son from death.
Jesus was talking about extreme love by the father, outrageous love, unrighteous love, saving love, love that runs not just in joy but to save from punishment.
Love does not always work, not in the sense of getting people to change their ways, but punishment doesn’t always work, either. In fact, punishment rarely works. But punishment is always just punishment. Love is always love.
John Robert McFarland
I don’t know why I put that copyright symbol after the title. I never say anything original, or anything worth stealing. Oh, well, it’s there…
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