Today we have the Parable of the Prodigal Son as it is traditionally known.
The story of a wayward and self-centred young man who takes all that is his and leaves the family home and strides off into a new and exciting life. He leaves behind a bereft father and mother and a resentful brother. After it all goes to custard he returns, is repentant, is accepted back in and given a big welcome home party that all, except his older brother enjoys.
It is interpreted as God welcoming home the sinner who repents with a little backhander to the religious right of the day who feel they have been wrongly treated by God and miss out on the benefits these sinful people receive.
That maybe the story as we know it. Is it? Is there not much more in this story for us to embrace for ourselves? I would suggest so.
It is about boundary-s, fences and barriers; things designed to keep some in and others out, to hold at bay what we fear and to include only that which is safe and like us in so many ways. Modern human beings do boundary’s well, especially fences. Fences have an iconic place in Australian culture; the quarter acre block, farms and land, roadways and highways and more are delineated by fences as boundary’s, the object that defines place, property and ownership. Fences and boundaries tell us who is in or who is out, who we are or are not responsible and what behaviour is or is not acceptable. And you dare not cross the boundaries.
I suspect the greatest nightmare for some people would be to have no boundaries at all. In fact people without personal boundaries and those with large and numerous boundaries may find themselves without space for themselves.
One cannot be boundary-less. Yet isn’t that the approach to love that Jesus seems to be indicating in this Parable? There is no boundary to love? Love is not bound by right behaviour, inappropriate behaviour, tradition, accepted practices or societies mores? Love is in fact boundary-less.
Kari Henkelmann Keyl asks “What would it mean for us to take this risky, boundary-less love into our lives? What grudges would we feel compelled to give up? What prejudices would start to melt? What healing of relationships might be born? What self-hatred could be disarmed and forgiven?”
What if we had Boundary-less love for:
- Creation – The very story we, as human beings are deeply connected to and apart of. What if our love transcended our tendency to use and abuse nature for our own purposes? What if we looked closely at how we use natures resources and decided, out of a boundary-less love to use less, exploit less, abuse less and ensure we keep more, respect more, protect more of these limited resources?
- Possessions – These are the things we covet at, often, the cost to relationships, real and deep relationships with people. What if our boundary-less love for possessions took into consideration how we treat others, people and creation as possessions and shifted that love from objects to subjects, giving us deeper interaction with real people?
- People – Not just those near and dear to us, although we must love them with a boundary-less unconditional love as well, but those who are different to us in colour, culture, language and faith. How different would our lives and the world be if we were able to love all without boundaries and limitations?
As we will hear in our parish meeting, one of our goals was to gather more people to do the tasks we had planned. To do this we posted ads with Boroondarra Volunteer network. The people who responded are little like the people who traditionally volunteered or worship in this place. Only one is from Glen Iris and looks like an average member of this congregation. We have people from India, Vietnam, Bangledesh, Indonesia, Nepal and more, not to mention the Aboriginal Vicar. They also do not share our faith as such. They are Hindu (3), Buddhist (1), and Muslim (1). Yet they represent the Australia we now live in and bring colour and diversity to the truth that our faith claims to represent.
If we are to practice boundary-less love in our daily existence – what does that look like? May I suggest the following?
- Inclusive and Non-Judgemental– We can not make decisions on behalf of God as to who is in or who is out. Like Jesus we are to say if they are not against us then they for us. If people wish to join with our church and its mission but are different to us, that is ok for they have seen what is at the core of all things – love – and responded to advance that love in the world.
- Non-interventionist and Respectful – It is about accepting what is already without the desire to change, shift, convert or make adhere to our particular world-view. Jesus understood this clearly. In his healings he asked the question, in different ways, what do you want me to do for you? There was no sense of this is what I am going to do because I think this is good for you. He didn’t intervene so much as collaborate with others.
- Regenerative/anticipatory – Looking for what is already present instead of replacing what is there with something that has never been there. Looking to allow the indigenous or original to find ways to come back to life and flourish where it once did. The father never intervened in the decision making process of his son but he allowed the process to take its natural course and anticipated the possibility of regeneration – of a return of what had been there before – his son. In a spiritual sense this is about attending to what was here before we brought the plant in the pot and usurped the natural.
- Values Driven – Our values drive our relationships with the other. If we do indeed value our self and others we will not do anything that will damage them or our relationship with them. The father in this story valued relationship and valued both his sons and strove to allow them to become themselves based on his love and acceptance of their decisions and actions. Both seemed not to see this. Perhaps both continued not to see it after the party as well. There is no sense in this story that the younger son got it anymore than the older son did.
- Spirit Lead/Mysterious – Boundary-less love is not logical. When legendary Father Ted Kennedy went to Redfern he was living in a newly renovated house which was more than adequately furnished. One day he was visited by an aboriginal lady struggling with alcoholism. He invited her in and gave her a sandwich. On her way out she spied a piece of furniture she liked and asked if she could have it. He couldn’t say no. After that it didn’t take long before he had little furniture left. Others had come and asked for it. Enter Mum Shirl who said Father Ted, I am coming to live with you and we will sort this out and do something for our people. Illogical boundary-less love lead to the transformation of Redfern at the hands of these two unlikely friends.
In this parable we are challenged to let down the boundaries of our embedded preconceptions and understandings and to allow the process of life and being take us into places we have not even thought was possible.
When we sent out the volunteer job descriptions we hadn’t consider who would respond, where they were from or what their faiths would be. God surprised us and now asks us to surprise ourselves, expand our understanding of God and others, and continue on this way, empowered by a boundary-less love.