A Reflection for Lent: How is the Love of God Experienced? Luke 15:11-32

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The Parable of A Father and Two Sons

I experience God as Love, Only Love, Just Love.  As most of us have learned from many tellings of this parable, God, the Father, is Love.  However, this is not the experience of everyone all the time.

There is a difference between a parable and an allegory.  An allegory, like the books, Pilgrim’s Progress and Animal Farm, intends to present a one-to-one correspondence between characters and events in the story and characters and events in the real world.  If the story in Luke 15:11-32 was an allegory, then it would be fair to conclude that the definitive interpretation of the story is:

Father = God

Loving Father = Loving God

Parables are not allegories.  The story Jesus told about a father and two sons is a parable subject to many interpretations by many listeners at many times.  Therefore, the father might not be, to a given listener at a given time, a character that points that listener towards a loving God.

Consider this example.  When I was five years old, my father was dying in a hospital in Buffalo, New York; same thing when I was six years old; same thing when I was seven years old.  He was temporarily rescued from death, only to have the tragedy repeated, again and again.  So, imagine that you can remember with me the flannel graph (You might need to ask an elder what that is.) telling of the parable to me and the other children in my Sunday School Class by our loving teacher, Mrs. Levine.  She was a great storyteller.  Her message was clear and focused on the loving father making a mad dash to welcome home the “sorry son.”  “God is just like the loving father,” she told us.  Some children heard and believed.

Kenny could not hear that message.  He was too disturbed by the picture of the little boy on the flannel graph running away from home, scared to death, feeling abandoned.  He was still wondering, “Why God does not love me enough to heal my daddy so that he can chase after me should I run away from home?”  “Daddy, don’t let me leave!”  Kenny is crying inside, as Mrs. Levine tells the class that God is Love.  “Daddy, don’t leave me!”

Conclusion:  It is a spiritually dangerous practice to interpret parables, and many other stories of Jesus, as allegory.  We must encourage everyone to listen to Jesus in a way that allows them to hear what God wants them to hear on any given occasion.  For some people some of the time, the equation, “Loving Father = Loving God,” is experienced as a untrue.  We need many stories, songs, metaphors and many experiences to support the journeys of all the people towards the good news that God is in fact, Just Love; for everyone, all the time.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Kenny was not able to consider, at age 7, the image of God as a loving and ever-present father.  Do you know others who, as children, or as adults, are in a similar situation?  Do you know anyone who has never experienced unconditional love from a father, nor from anyone?  Can you be this unconditional love to someone?
  2. Give some thought to the wide variety of God images found within scripture.  What are your favorites?  Are there names for God or images of God that do not work for you?
  3. In our worship, music and listening to others, are we open to the variety of images of God that can help others draw closer to a God who is Just Love?  Since God is the “All In All”, could you respect someone who said that their most loving image of God is “A Giant Pine, Magnificent and Old”?

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