Sunday, May 31, 2009

3-18-2007: 4th Lent (C)

Joshua 5:9,10-12/Psalm 34/2 Corinthians 5:17-21/Luke 15:1-3,11-32
There are many ways to read the gospel parable of the Prodigal Son; family-constellation psychoanalytic theory contributing much to our understanding of the narrative’s meaning. Take the older son in the parable, for example; he’s extremely jealous of his father’s show of affection for his younger brother. As I read his reaction, one image that comes to mind is a flashback of the TV show The Smothers Brothers and Tommy Smothers feigning jealousy and rage as he listens to his brother’s reminiscence of Mom liking him best.

One of the great myths that the parable of the Prodigal Son exposes is one which seems sacrosanct in today’s analytic culture. It’s a myth that lurks just under consciousness demanding that parents love all their children the same. The more subtle illusion created by the myth is that most parents actually believe they do love all their children the same.

I once knew a couple who chose to adopt a child internationally after they had given birth to their first son. When the adopted boy was into his teen years, he went through some pretty rough times. His parents were good and loving people who wanted what was best for their son. Yet the mom would inevitably begin any story about her adopted son with the words: I love both my sons equally. In my eyes they are just the same. I’m certain this well-meaning mom was being quite honest and really believed what she was saying. Yet, the very fact that she would feel it necessary to say it, to verbalize her egalitarian love, meant that it wasn’t really true. Her sons were quite different, not only in race, but in temperament and personality as well. My question to her was not so much how could you treat them the same, but why would you want to.

This dynamic of the distribution of parental love is present in all families, not just adoptive ones. Children are just different. They have different needs and desires. Treating them the same, loving them in the same way, is not necessarily a desirable thing. As for the quantity of that love – how can you ever measure what is in essence immeasurable?

In these days of egalitarian hysteria, we have forgotten the truth that being equal is not equivalent to being the same. The prodigal’s father really did seem to love his younger son more, or better put: at that moment, given those circumstances, he did what love demanded even though his actions unintentionally hurt his other son. The prodigal’s father, who himself was prodigal in mercy, did not shrink from love’s demands even when faced with the heart-breaking accusation: you love him more than me. Being prodigal in the affairs of love means not shrinking away from acting prodigally, even when that hard accusation might well be true.

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