Sunday, January 24, 2016

God loves us

Prodigal Son 
from the Eadwine psalter
circa 1150
illumination on parchment

Our father – the one in the heavens – gives to us everything. All that we have. All that we are. Our life. Our freedom. Our being. And, he loves us. He is love – with us.

Sometimes we think – maybe – well, what’s so great about that? I don’t have much. I don’t have as much as some of my neighbors do. Sure, they have something to be grateful for – but not me. And so we show God our face of ingratitude.

Do you know that look? If you have children, you probably know that look. Because you know what’s it’s like to give everything to someone – for all that you have to be theirs. And you know what’s it’s like for them to take it all – and to take it for granted.

But you also know, that when they do that, it does not lessen your love for them. It does not quell in you the warmth of your affection for them – not one degree.

When a child says to me, “I hate you” or “I wish you were dead,” it does hurt, but I know that they do not know what they are saying and so I forgive them – though sometimes, in my fallenness, it takes a moment. And I go right on loving them and providing for their needs and also, as I am able, for their wants.  

Some of us know something about what it means to be a loving father or mother, though none know so well nor love so well as God, our father, who is in the heavens. All of us, however, are children of a loving father – the one in the heavens. And so all of us – believe it or not – know something about being loved.

My friend Ian Gerdon wrote recently that, “all humans are brought into existence with two names: Amati (which mean Beloved) and Amandi (which means Ought-to-be-loved).” We are beloved by God and we ought to be loved by humans. We are created by love himself, out of his love, for loving, and being loved. While our first name – which is Beloved – describes our true condition and the ground of our being, our second name – which is Ought-to-be-loved – describes how we all should respond to that reality in ourselves and in our neighbor. God loves us and he calls us to love ourselves and one another.

Sadly, we do not always love one another. And, we are not always loved by others. And, we do not always love ourselves.

When we feel unloved, it is always because some human has not loved us as they ought to have. Sometimes that human is another and sometimes that human is myself – but the defect or deficit in love is always on the human side and never the divine. 

God’s love never fails. When we feel unloved, God loves us. When we think that God does not love us, God loves us. When we do not love God, God loves us. When we say to God like ungrateful children, “I hate you” or “I wish you were dead,” God loves us. But we humans do fail to love. And our failings and the failings of our neighbors can cloud our vision.

Our neighbors’ and our own unloving thoughts and actions sometimes keep us from seeing that God our father loves us, that he is with us. We fail to see all that he has given us. And so we covet after persons, positions, and things that are not given to us, but given instead to others. Ingratitude and covetousness are ubiquitous and pernicious. To covet nothing that is our neighbors’ is a kind of freedom that few of us know.

We are too often like the ungrateful younger son who says to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.” In the usual course of things, of course, a son receives his inheritance only after his father has died. So, by asking for it while his father yet lives, the younger son is in effect saying to his father, “I wish you were dead.” This is supreme ingratitude. It is a failure to see that the father already shares everything with his sons. They are with him always, and all that he has is theirs.

But that is not enough for the younger son. Really, he just seems to want his father out of the picture. Perhaps he mistakes his father’s loving presence for some kind of oppression or limitation on his freedom. As it turns out, taking his inheritance and leaving is not gain for the younger son, it is loss. Though he thinks it will be to his benefit, it is in fact his undoing. He does not know what is good for him as well as his father does. While he briefly increases his possessions and pleasures, for that he loses the loving presence of his father, and a continual sharing in his abundance. His ingratitude leads to the loss even of what he has.

And the elder son is ungrateful, too. The two sons are not as different as we might suppose. The younger son is overt in his ingratitude – taking his inheritance and leaving. But the elder son’s ingratitude becomes clear when he refuses to go into the house to celebrate the return of his brother and when he bitterly says to his father, “you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends.”

The loving father leaves neither son alone in their ingratitude. When the younger son comes in sight of his house, his father runs out to meet him. And when the elder son will not come into the house to the feast, his father goes out to invite him in. The father goes out to them both.

How like these two sons we are!

Being with our father – the one in the heavens – is worth far more than anything we can gain from the world. But all of us are at times like the younger son. We turn away from our father and go into the world to try there to sate our passions. Hopefully, we have learned from this that such squander brings us nothing but emptiness and ruin. And that it is only in the presence of our loving heavenly father that we can find peace or rest. So let us who have turned to the razzle dazzle of covetous worldliness now turn back again to our father. He will run out to meet us.

Or sometimes we are like the elder son. We have always remained partly in our father’s presence – say, by coming often to church – but all the while we try to hide in our hearts our ingratitude and petty jealousies. Let us let go of all of that. Our father will come out and entreat us to come in to the feast.

Indeed, he is even now inviting us into the feast. An antidote to the poison of our ingratitude is available in this Divine Liturgy: the Eucharist. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. Ingratitude, then, is anti-Eucharist. And so, let us give thanks to our father for all he has given us, above all for his loving presence in our lives, and approach holy communion with grateful hearts. 


Christian LeBlanc said...

I just covered this parable at length in Catechism class- you should be a catechist too.

John R.P. Russell said...

Thanks. I am!

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