Reflections On Lent, Day 11

No, you didn’t miss something.  I did not post a Reflection on day 10.  Some days are so full that you cannot squeeze one more thing into it.  Yesterday was one of those.  Today I was able to get to the task, and here goes:

The sun broke over the eastern horizon with an almost summertime brilliance today.  I know this because even though it was a Saturday morning I was awake at my usual 5 AM.  I could not go back to sleep and so tried my favorite method for catching a few more winks.  I stretched out on the living room sofa and plugged in an old black and white science fiction movie from the 1950’s, closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scenes from the dialogue.  This is a strategy that works nearly all of the time.

No dice today, so I gave up at about seven and began to read Joshua Ryan Butler’s “Skeletons In God’s Closet”.  By nine I was finished, my wife was stirring, and it was clearly time for some kitchen action.  Soon we were feasting on bacon, potatoes andchard, and eggs for me, and as we ate I could only stare out of the window at the deep blue sky and sparkling sunlight that washed the landscape that spread out before us.  I knew that this was a day to be outside, and after cleaning up I put on my gardening shoes and grabbed my shovel, hoe, foam kneeling pad and an old Craftsman screwdriver with the business end rounded off into an oval shape by the decades that I have used it exclusively as a weeding tool.

Soon I was kneeling in one of my raised beds pulling weeds.  The soil is wet and loose, and the roots came up with relative ease in most cases.  In other cases I had to work just a little bit harder.  In no time at all I had a rhythm going and the weeds were literally flying into and old trash can that I have kept for just that purpose.

While I was thusly engaged, face to the dirt and fingers actually in the soil, I remembered the Lent project of spending more purposeful thought and time in the things of God.  My mind had been racing from subject to subject; work and its complexities, plans for the spring, projects which needed to be completed at home, and so on.  Now I tried to corral my mind and focus it on God and His ways, and it was not easy.

I think that if I had been born in these times I would have been saddled with the diagnosis of ADD.  I have always had a struggle concentrating on one thing only for any length of time, and today was no exception.  Eventually however I did manage to get my thoughts flying in formation, and this is what I think God told me today.

The dirt the earth, for me, is a reset button.  As the screwdriver blade rooted out tenacious weeds and as the shovel head bit deep into the wet soil I was reminded that the soil is what God made my ancestor Adam out of and soil is what we all will eventually return to, except for Jesus, Enoch, Elijah and V.I. Lenin.  I am not at all sure how they keep that latter guy looking so fresh; seems like some sort of dark art to me.

Anyway, all of the rest of us have dirt in our futures, and as I worked in that dirt today, especially with an eye to coaxing vegetables out of it that would cost me a pretty penny at Whole Foods, I reflected on how God has given us the tools and now we just have to squeeze our sustenance out of the soil.  Even more than that, I felt a weird sort of kinship with the soil.  Yeah, I know:  “Tree Hugger Gone Wild”.  It’s not like that.  I don’t think of that dirt clod as my cousin.  I cannot help but reflect though that we we share the same creator, and that my loving work with the soil will be responded to by an outpouring of sweet, healthy organic and cheap vegetables which will nourish my body as well as my soul.  This is a blessing indeed.

What also struck me was the permanence and stability of the soil.  I have had that dirt back there for at least fifteen years.  I know that dirt well because I carried all twenty cubic yards or so of it back there one wheelbarrow load at a time.  A walking path is the only access that I have to my back yard.  I have no idea where that dirt came from either; it could have come from the Love Canal for all I know or Hanford, which would be more likely.

But every year I return to that soil in the spring and turn under by hand the cover crop that grew over winter and fixed either nitrogen or potassium in its roots, and also turn under the compost that I have been cooking since the previous spring.  Several overpriced bags of compost from Shorty’s Garden Center also find their way into the beds that I prepare for my cold weather crop that I begin my garden with, and then the tomatoes and cucumbers, onions and carrots and green beans that are the crown jewels of my summer and fall dining room table.

I tend this garden the way that God tends me.  I have to have my weeds pulled daily, and some are rooted deep and require a sharp metal point at times to get the job done.  I am good with producing manure.  But God takes that manure, which would burn and kill my soul garden the way that fresh chicken or steer manure would burn my vegetable garden, and he cures it, composts it, and when it is ready He uses it to produce fruit in my own life.  Pests invade my garden and I plant flowers which draw insects that prey on those pests.  In like manner, God plants human flowers in my life which strengthen me to resist the nasty, Screwtapesque pests that would challenge my soul in its relation to the Gardener.

For many it would seem that the garden is a metaphor for my relationship with God, but for me it is deeper than that.  The garden IS my relationship with God in microcosm.  As long as I am able to I will spend the warm – more or less – months of the year out there relating to God in my own way.  I hope and pray that all of you find your own “garden” and allow God to nurture you through it.

Reflections On Lent, Day 9

My Lent reflection for today will be a brief one.  This is necessary because it concerns my work, and I work in the medical profession.  I am on the front lines in the delivery of health care and the privacy rules which surround my line of work are very widespread and very strict.  It is, therefore, the better part of valor to write as little about it as possible.  Still, I believe that I have just enough room to deliver this reflection without stepping on toes or stepping out of line.

I knew that today would be a challenge before I walked through the door. We have been seeing more patients each day lately than we have seen in quite a while, and I knew that one of our swing shift people was taking the day off.  The night shift person had labored mightily to get done what she could but there was still an impressive list of tests to be performed before any of us had picked up a transducer.  Because of a happy innovation in our work schedule however we had an extra person working four hours in the morning, which gave me a much needed opportunity to practice on a new machine that we have recently purchased.

By lunchtime however we knew that our collective goose was cooked.  The printer sounded like a machine gun, so many were the orders for new tests that came rattling through it.  It quickly became obvious that the one swing shift person who would be working this evening was going to be buried with exams needing to be done if I didn’t stay a little bit past my quitting time, and so I opted to do that.  Our student stayed and did another test too, and we thereby managed to get done some of the people who had been waiting the longest for their tests to be finished.

Just as I was wrapping up what I thought was my last test I was told that a patient had been sent over to us to get a test, and if he couldn’t get one as an outpatient he was going to have to go through the Emergency Department.  Happily I was there for two reasons:  First, I saved him from a long slog through the Emergency Department and secondly because he was a young guy and this particular test would have been seriously embarrassing if it would have been done by one of the female techs, and that is all that we usually have at that time of the afternoon.

So the message which came home to me is that when things are hectic and seem to be all on the wrong track, it’s just possible that you are not seeing the whole picture.  In my case a long and difficult day made it possible for a young man who is at an age where embarrassment is likely to be most acute to have his test performed under the least uncomfortable conditions that are possible and also saved the time, expense, and perhaps pain from IV sticks or whatever might have happened in the Emergency Department.

So I end my day tired but contented with the way it is wrapping up.  My goal now is to cook, eat, clean up, pour a glass of wine and get busy preparing to lead a book study this Monday.  I’ll lean on God’s grace to keep me sharp while I do that.

Reflections On Lent, Day 8

I had thoughts of beginning this reflection at six o’clock this morning.  I knew that my work day was going to be very busy and that we would be going to some friends’ house to meet with a group from my church, and that this would account for much of my time for this day.  Additionally, I have to have the rear end of my pick up truck photographed and estimated for the cost of repairs.  I was rear-ended a couple of weeks ago and want to get my truck, which I inherited from my father, back into shape.  I am in fact waiting in the lobby of the auto body shop right now while I am writing this.

And then there is the reading and organization which I must do to prepare to help lead a book study five days from now.  I really do hate putting such things off until the last minute; if I am not prepared you can always tell that I’m winging it!  My next four days are wide open, but I get more and more nervous the longer I put off starting to prepare.  And besides, Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be sunny again and I am getting anxious to plant kale and chard and broccoli and onions.  And then there’s dinner Sunday night with my daughter’s family—.

Time is getting away from me, and I have even given up Facebook as a Lenten fast.  Imagine how crunched for time I would be if I spent as much time as I usually do staring at my glowing rectangle, solving world problems with political friends and keeping up relationships with friends across town and also across the globe.  I’m beginning to believe that I have a time issue.

I love to be busy, but this may be a little bit too much.  My friends may have to get by without me tonight.  They really are friends and not connections on Facebook, so they would forgive me my absence.  And maybe the kale and other veggies could wait for another week to get busy growing in my garden in the back yard.  An evening at home, taking a nap and reading a book about God and thinking deeply about what the author is saying about God could possibly be a better way to spend my time this evening.

Well, best laid plans of mice and men.  I got home this afternoon and took a good nap, and then off we went to our home community meeting. We put together an Italian meal that was delicious and had some of the best together time that we’ve had since, well, last week.  We dug into the strange triangle that was Jesus, Pontius Pilate, and the Jewish authorities. There’s a lot of meat on those bones and we chewed on them with gusto.  My biggest take away from the episode concerns the ‘robber’ named Barabbas.  Pilate does not want to kill Jesus but he doesn’t want a riot on his hands either, so he decides to try to cut a deal.  “OK, you want to kill somebody so bad, you can either kill Barabbas or Jesus.”

Pilate was talking to the same crowd that has been howling for Jesus’ head since sunup, so this Barabbas must have been a very bad dude for Pilate to think for a moment that the Jews were going to go for this stunt. They begin to cry “Give us Barabbas”, and I think that a modern analogy would be to cry out “Give us Manson”, or “Give us Ariel Castro”, or “Give us al-Baghdadi (the murderous nutbag who currently runs the ISIS bunch)”.  It literally seems to me to have been a choice between God and the devil, and the crowd chose the devil.

I’m not going to be too hard on the Jews however.  Wouldn’t I have done the same thing?  Wouldn’t you?  When our cultural foundations are being threatened don’t we push back?  I certainly do.  I’ll assume the robe of self-righteousness on the day that I can go 24 hours together without crucifying Jesus with some sin in thought or deed.

So my Lent reflection is to slow down, do what really is important and not be a slave to what only appears to be urgent, and be watchful so that the next time I get to choose between God and Manson or Pol Pot or Mr. Boko Haram or the devil himself, I will be prepared to shout out “Give me Jesus”.

Reflections On Lent, Day 7

Thank God this day is nearly over!  It is five thirty in the afternoon and my butt is at last planted firmly in my appropriately-named Lazy Boy chair.  It would take a charge of dynamite to dislodge me from it now.  I probably fantasized about this chair and this cheap glass of wine (not three buck Chuck, but not much better) a dozen times today, and at last I am home.

I knew early on, last night in fact, that this would be a crazy day.  In fact I went in early so that I could get a very important test done before I had to leave the department to be part of a job interview.  It is very hard for me to leave my department and go to these meetings because many of the people with whom I work are very young.  Hell, when you’re staring down the barrel of sixty seven years old a lot of people look very young!  And in my line of medical work curve balls come at you all of the time.  I’ve been fielding those curve balls for a good many years and can usually muddle through a situation with everybody eventually more or less happy, but my young friends can  be blind-sided by them.  I like to be there to blunt the worst of it for them.

Today there were situations upon situations.  I began with two exams which for two different reasons only I could do.  This made me late for my first meeting, one which contained information that I would have benefitted from receiving.  Upon returning to my department the phone began to ring like a bell choir, mostly from scheduling who were telling me about the work that was being added on to our already busy schedule.

After making arrangements to provide care for an inpatient which required a delicate minuet involving three departments, two technologists and one student, I left my department and began trudging down the hall to where my next meeting was to be held, wondering if there was any way that I could survive two hundred and eighty more days until I retire.  It was at that moment as I approached the chapel at the end of the hallway that I saw a statue of Mother Joseph in a posture of prayer.

That stopped my racing mind in its tracks, but first a bit about Mother Joseph, or MoJo as we call her.  Mother Joseph was a nun of some order or other who came west from a city in eastern Canada to minister to the poor and hurting out on the frontier back in the middle of the 1800’s.  She championed education and charity and outreach to the orphans and homeless.  MoJo was the motivation behind the first medical establishment of any real significance in our corner of the world, and beyond that she personally designed and oversaw the construction of a four story brick academy and orphanage which still stands, and which once housed the church that I worship with until they kicked us out with one month’s notice.  They seem to have wanted a Sunday-only church, and we are definitely not one of those.

All of this could lend a person to believe that MoJo was a saint, and perhaps she was, but I have read that she was also a world-class ball buster as well.  Have any of you, dear readers, ever felt the wrath of a nun with a ruler?  I have known friends who attended Catholic schools and would prefer to charge Viet Cong machine gun nests rather than face a nun with a face of flint and a ruler in her hand.  One friend has shown me scars on his knuckles which he attributes to the ‘sisters’ at his Catholic school.  Of course, he’s one of the biggest bullshitters that I have ever known, but his story jibes with others that I have heard on the same topic.

Well, I have heard that MoJo was short of rulers and so she carried around a two by four.  I’m not going to give any examples because I think that the old girl deserves to rest in peace.  She was tough as nails however and stood toe to toe with men, women, children and demons to get done what she believed God wanted for her to get done, so I’ll not bad mouth her in this post.  Besides, some day I may meet MoJo in a restored heaven and earth and she may still be carrying that two by four.  I wasn’t born yesterday!

But let’s return to today, the twenty fourth day of February, 2015, one hundred and thirteen years after the passing of MoJo in her beloved Academy in downtown Vancouver.  As I steamed purposefully toward this meeting I saw the statue of Mother Joseph.  She was kneeling, as befits a Sister at prayer, with hands clasped together and face turned up towards the heavens and the God whom she loved and worshiped.  And that face was devoid of the cares and stresses of the arduous and complicated life that this saintly woman endured.  She was looking up in loving admiration at her Lord, and one knew without even hearing her prayer that she was giving God thanks for His Mercy, His love, His promises and His grace.

The effect upon me was instantaneous.  My poor-me paradigm was thrown out the door and replaced with an I-worship-the-same-God-that-she-did paradigm, and the comforting effect of this was immeasurable.  Not that my day got any easier.  My participation in the meeting that I was walking toward when I saw the statue was cut short by a call to come and deal with a situation that required my experience.  The rest of the day was filled with calls to add on more work, some of which I felt had to be accepted and some which I had to put off until the next day.  When the issue at stake is somebody’s pain and fear for their health, those are not easy decisions to make.

Still, they are decisions which must be made, and Mother Joseph had to make them too.  She did it with one eye fixed on the problems of Earth and one eye fixed on the promised reconciliation of heaven and earth under the lordship of God.  I found that to be a good example to follow and allowed it to lead me until I finally got to take my rest here in my chair (now on a second glass of wine.  For medicinal purposes of course!).  I will make it a point to visit Mother Joseph’s statue tomorrow and frequently thereafter.

Reflections On Lent, Day 6

Let’s just get this out into the open;  I’m cheating on this post.  I am writing this reflection on Sunday night, and so we really aren’t to Monday, the sixth day of Lent yet.  But I’m not going to post this until tomorrow and that WILL be day six.  I know, it’s a bit pharisaical.  So sue me!  OK, we’ve got that business behind us.  Now let’s roll.

In my last post I wrote of returning to Facebook on Sunday and how it disrupted my effort to focus on God more closely.  As soon as I finished that post I cleaned up a little and we headed off to our evening church service in the facility of a neighboring church.  If you remember, we usually meet in a theater and we got 86’d last night so that they could use their theater for an Oscars party.  It’s their theater, so I’m cool with that.

We gathered instead in this other church facility that is a real, dedicated church building.  After fleeting moments of jealousy I purposed to regain the focus on God stuff that I have been trying to cultivate during Lent and I pondered the awesome generosity of the neighboring church which not only let us use their building but also contributed their own worship team, which is Christianspeak for the musicians who lead the hymns and songs.  Christians can be jerks just like anybody else, and churches (which is another way of saying ‘groups of Christians'” can be possessive of their buildings and so forth and thereby become collective jerks as well.  Our church and this other church have chosen to not act like that.  I think God likes that.  I would like to see other churches do that too, but I will not start preaching.

Our pastor, Jake, was preaching on the part of the Gospel story where Jesus gets interviewed by the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate.  It’s a familiar story, like the parable of the prodigal son which I wrote about a couple of days ago.  So what could I learn from this that I hadn’t learned from the last 100 times that I’ve heard, read, or seen enacted on a screen this very story?

Well, the part which stood out to me was the part about Barabbas.  Pilate, sensing that Jesus was innocent and wanting to set him free, knows that there is a tradition of giving the people the choice of setting one prisoner free and executing another;  crowd’s choice.  So he offers the crowd the choice of Jesus and a guy named Barabbas.  Now, the crowd has just dragged Jesus in to the Romans in order to have him killed, so who could this Barabbas be that Pilate figures “surely they’ll want to execute him instead of Jesus?”

The character played by Anthony Quinn in the 1961 film “Barabbas” probably doesn’t quite complete the picture.  It would probably be more accurate to compare Barabbas with Charles Manson, or Ariel Castro, or Oobie Doobie Dipstick al-Baghdadi, the twisted, murderous clown who sits at the top of the pyramid of insanity that is known as ISIS.  We don’t really know just how bad Barabbas was, but there is little doubt that he was as bad as it gets.  But then how bad Barabbas was is not the point; the point is that Barabbas was somebody whom Pilate, the consummate politician, thought that the Jews would NEVER want roaming freely in their society again.  And yet they chose to free Barabbas in the place of God Incarnate, all the while being unwilling to enter Pilate’s residence because they did not wish to become ceremonially unclean for the Passover.

Arghhh!  It’s mind boggling.  I’m reminded of when C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape becomes so worked up over some issue or other that is irrelevant to this post that he transforms into a centipede and cannot finish his letter to his nephew Wormwood.  Well, I feel a little like Screwtape when I think that these guys are stressing over remaining ‘clean’ while they are in the middle of a mission to kill God.

But that’s not so unusual really.  How many times do we all reflect upon our own actions with great charity and condescension while blasting our opponents with both barrels?  For me, at least, the answer is ‘often’.  And the point of this scripture wasn’t how evil Barabbas was, or what schmucks the Jewish authorities were either.  The point was that Jesus claimed to be the Truth, and available to Romans and Jews and anybody else who might be seeking the truth.  There were more points actually, and you’ll have to go to House Of Providence Vancouver and listen for yourself to hear them all.  But that one nailed me, and so that is the one that God wanted me to get.  And now you know it too.

Reflections On Lent: First Sunday

Today is Sunday, the first Sunday of the Lent season.  Only during the last year did I learn the rules of the game; that one is free on Sundays to engage in whatever activity it is that one is giving up for Lent, although I haven’t yet learned exactly why it is so.  I heard the explanation once but it failed to stick in my mind, and now I am reduced to writing about something that I know little about.  Still, it has been reliably reported that on Sundays one can eat chicken tenders or watch television or do whatever it is that one has chosen to eschew for forty days in order to better focus on things of God.

My fast, of course, concerns Facebook, and by eleven thirty last night when I went to bed I had twenty one comments or ‘likes’ or mentions waiting for me to check out.  Rather than wait a half hour and get right to it I preferred to go to bed, but at five this morning my internal clock went off and I was soon up and seated in front of the desktop, plowing into my Facebook communications like a hungry undergraduate plowing into last evening’s leftover pizza.  It really was good to catch up, and I have checked the ‘Book several times today and even posted an entry or two.

So why do I feel a little bit empty?  It is perfectly within the rules to break my fast on Sundays and I really do enjoy communicating with my friends, so everything should be fine, no?  But somehow it just seems to be wrong.  Something’s missing here.  I have found it hard to bring myself to focus on God and the things of God today in the same way that I have for the four days which preceded, and I don’t like that.

The problem, I think, is not with Facebook.  Facebook is neither good nor bad; it is just Facebook.  The problem lies more with me.  I began my fast by choosing to grip my time with God as firmly as I could, trying to wring out of it as much connection to the Creator as I could by my own feeble efforts and with the help of the Holy Spirit.  It seems like the act of grappling with my woefully unfocused attention was actually helped by the giving up of something, and it could have been anything at all.  Whenever I would use my phone to check the time, read my emails, check the score of the Aztec’s game (they beat San Jose State) or, of all things, make a phone call, I would see the number of communications awaiting my attention on Facebook growing, which in turn would remind me of my quest for increased intimacy with God.

Then at five this morning I plowed into those communications and in the process lost my grip on my focus upon God.  It’s crazy how that came about but it is as true as it can possibly be.  It was like “There.  That’s over.  Let’s get back to normal activities”.  Well, I don’t want to get back to normal activities!  I liked connecting with God in new even if utterly imperfect ways every day just fine, thank you.  I have enjoyed this day so far; sleeping in (I went back to bed after checking things out at five AM), cooking breakfast and yakking with my wife and later on with my brother on the phone.  Soon we will cook some lunch, go for a walk, and then meet with our church body in a building owned by another church a couple of blocks down the street from the movie theater where we usually meet.  When you rent space from a theater you sometimes have to play second fiddle to “Happy Feet” or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.  Tonight we got bumped by an Oscar party.  No worries.  Church is not about a building, and this night will be bittersweet as we say goodbye to a beloved associate pastor who has answered a call to begin a work at another church in a nearby city.  He and his family will be missed.  But still the day felt different.  Something was missing.  The intentionality of my focus on focusing on God was not there and I didn’t like that.

So I am going to modify the Sunday breaking of the Lenten fast just a little.  For the next several Sundays I will look at Facebook once in the morning and once again in the afternoon or evening.  The rest of the time I will continue to the best of my ability to maintain the focus on heightening my awareness of the nearness of God and sharpening my senses to receive what communications He might be trying to send my way.  Perhaps this might become a pattern to continue, one way or another, for the rest of the year.  We’ll see.

Reflections On Lent, Day 4

One of the purposes of the lenten fast is to free the mind in order to focus on God and the things of God.  It was with this in mind that I arose this morning earlier than I usually would on a Saturday so that I could join a group of men in our church office above the Rosemary Cafe for a study of God’s word, to be led by Tom Perez, one of our elders.

Tom was given an interesting challenge; speak on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.  Is there a parable better known to any Christian, and perhaps to many non-Christians, than the Prodigal Son?  Yeah, possibly the Good Samaritan, but it would be a close competition between the two.  The Prodigal Son has been preached on, painted, studied and debated almost ad nauseum, and so Tom found it a challenge to find something new to speak of in that very old and very widely known story.  Tom did find something new, but if you want to know what that was you’ll have to hope that he puts it into a blog of his own.  I found something new of my own however, and since this IS my blog I will write about my revelation instead of Tom’s.

The audience of the story was very diverse.  Jesus was hanging out with the “tax collectors and sinners,” which were the riff raff of the Jewish people in that day.  Apparently a group of Pharisees happened upon this assemblage and were looking down their snooty noses at this motley crew and saying “see how [Jesus] even eats with tax collectors and sinners”.  This simply wasn’t done by a proper Jew, especially one who would put himself forward as a teacher, or rabbi.  So Jesus told this diverse group a set of stories to illustrate why Jesus was with whom He was with, and why it should matter to them and to us to listen to Him too.

The prodigal is story number three, and in it a very shiftless younger son asks his father for money that he’s really not entitled to and to everyone’s surprise he gets the money.  This profligate then goes away and parties hardy until the money’s gone, he’s starving, and can only survive by tending somebody’s pigs (the absolute worse condition for a Jewish boy to find himself in).  This son finally comes to his senses and says to himself “My father’s servants have it better than me.  I’ll return to my home and beg my father to make me a servant in his house”, and he practices his speech on the way back home hoping to persuade his father with a good argument to take him in as a slave.

The father sees him coming and rushes out to meet him.  The son starts babbling, trying to cut the deal, but the father won’t listen.  “Throw some steaks on the grill!  Break out the glad rags!  Hang some bling on the boy! Open a couple of bottles of Browne Family Vinyards Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 vintage!  Dad takes his boy in and begins to celebrate.

The older brother hears Led Zeppelin coming out of the house and comes in to find the party in full roar.  When he hears that his stoned slacker of a brother has returned and is being feted while he was out shoveling manure or something, the older brother sits down on a rock and starts pouting like a little baby.  His Dad goes to him and tries to explain why this party is celebrating something important, but the big wuss won’t listen.  “I’ve slaved for you all of my life.  I’ve worked my butt off for you and all you ever give me are frozen pre-made Costco burgers to grill and a six pack or two of PBR to drink with my buddies, yet there you are partying it up with that waste of skin of a son of yours.  I’ve gotten screwed on this deal.

The obvious error that both sons have made is that they think about their arrangement with their Dad as a contractual thing.  The younger brother thinks that he’ll need to cut a deal with an outraged father to squeeze back into the family business as a servant, and at least have the Costco burgers and PBR to eat and drink.  The older son believes that he has fulfilled his end of the bargain, and has earned a position of preeminence within the family.  He should be getting the party thrown for him based on his performance, and the younger son could be dead along the side of the road for all he cared.

OK, we know all of those details.  There’s nothing new there to chew on, is there?  Jesus is patting the good little prodigal tax collectors on the head and putting a Number 36 Louisville Slugger (Willy Mays model) upside the heads of the clueless (as usual) Pharisees.

But wait!  There’s more!  I wanted God to show me something that I had not seen before and I believe that He did.  I have for years felt like the Pharisees were taking a beat-down by this parable but this morning it occurred to me that Jesus could have been doing something other than that.  It was perfectly natural for any Jew listening to Jesus, or any Jew and a lot of Christians today, for that matter, to believe that the relationship between God and man was contractual because, after all, it was!  “If you will do these things I will bless you, but if you do these other things I will curse you”.  Sounds like a contract to me!  Moses comes down off of the mountain and reads the contract.  “Yeah, we’ll do all of that stuff” said the people.  “You guys got your butts whupped and taken off to Babylon because you didn’t play by the rules and fulfill the contract”.  It’s not that hard at all for me to see the Pharisees and everybody else buying into that sort of a narrative.

I think it’s possible that Jesus was explaining to everybody present, Pharisee and sinner alike, that the old contract system was over.  This was a new teaching, and with authority (OK, I ripped off that line).  The Pharisees could reject that teaching if they chose to do so, but they were not bad simply because they held to the old view of the contract.  The tax collectors probably held to it too.  Jesus was breaking down a new teaching for everybody’s good; sinner, saint, Pharisee and me.  Some Pharisees finally got it (Paul, Joseph of Arimathea, maybe Nicodemas) but many did not.  Some of the sinners got it too, but very likely many of them did not get it any better than the Pharisees did.  We are all a bunch of knuckleheads sometimes, aren’t we?  Ultimately, I don’t think that Jesus was fingering anybody present as the bad guys in this story, and maybe I like the story even more because of that.