Many families have a story of someone like the youngest son in the parable from Jesus, someone who just ...left. Here is what I know of my family’s story:
My Dad was 17 when he took off without saying he was leaving, without a note to say where he was headed. His father had died a few months before—his leaving, in their small town, brought worry, shame, disappointment. For more than a couple of years there was no word, no mail, phone calls, or “word passed along” from one person to another.
It wasn’t until after my Dad died that I knew much about that time. Growing up we’d only hear an occasional comment, like “hitchhiking? Oh I did that to get around the country for awhile, I’d avoid it if I were you...” or “riding the rails” to get from place to place, that was sure dangerous.” But when we asked more, he’d usually say something like “that was when I was ‘gone for awhile’...” and then he’d tell a story of logging Douglas Fir in the western states, or laying rail road track in the mountains.
But after he died I learned a bit. Not about any dilemnas that made my Dad head out in his “gone for awhile” time, not about his experiences —but about the family at home. What they did, and how they felt.
My Aunt, who was my Dad’s only sibling, and was 2 years old than him and I ended up in a conversation that that wasn’t where we started...but was where we landed. She told me of my grandmother, inthose days, and of herself. “Our mother, your grandmother, was so sad, so very very sad...looking every day, every day! at maps, then writing letters to far flung places...Chicago, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington State, Oregon, California, Seattle, to sheriffs departments and friends of friends. “Have you met someone with this last name?” But,” she added, “we didn’t even know if he was...alive...or if he was using our name.”
Still those searching letters were prayed over, then sent. And not only letters, but also my Aunt and Grandmother. They took drives to towns across a widening range from theirs’; even into the Twin Cities. “After all,” she said, “maybe he hadn’t gone far, geography wise.” And always, she said, they’d find themselves turning to stare at groups of people, to scan streets; and going into stores—looking looking.”
When she was telling me this, it was almost 60 years after those “gone for awhile” years... but even then, her eyes took on a far-off searching kind of look.
It wasn’t until this week that I realized I don’t the “coming home” story. Was he a surprise, landing on the front step? Was my grandmother out-side, looking down the street or tending the flowers in front of the house? I don’t know...but what I do know tells me of the vital value of the parable of Jesus, and this week I began to wonder, how many times in those years did she read this parable, read, ponder, and pray?
Here Jesus shows us one who leaves, leaving behind insult and demeaning disregard to family and culture. One whose has no consideration for what family would have meant, one whose choices embarrass and treats with rudeness family and community, going to live among another people, squandering what had been worked so hard for, treating closest family as if they did not count for anything.
In in a way, that may have felt like what my dad did. They were from a small town, where taking off with no word would have felt like a major insult to caring family and community; and heartless, especially to a mother who was a new widow. And no word at all for a couple of years? treating mother and sister as if they did not count.
But ... the heart of the story?
My Aunt told me this, too: “He’d been gone for more than a year when I unleashed my feelings. Worry, indignation, sorrow, anger, deep disappointment. I asked our mother “Does he give any thought to what we are doing now?” “Does he realize how we search, hoping to catch a glimpse of the slant of his shoulders? Does he know how often people say: “what? still no word?” “He seemed a better son ...”
She said she went on that day, to my grandmother, about his action of leaving and his inaction of not contacting them...and then found herself saying something like, “its so hurtful, and if he dies, we won’t know...if he does come back, I’ll sure light into him.”
It was then, my Aunt said, that my grandmother broke in...saying “daughter, sit here, beside me. I know. I know. It all hurts so.
But, now. When he comes home, if he is alive to come home...let us not say any of that. Let him hear from us the kindest tone. God shows us, we are to welcome him home. So let us throw open the door, and cook his favorite meal. Catch him up on family news with no hint of “do you know what you have caused?” Let us not dig up that neighbors and friends have been embarrassed for us, feeling he’s insulted us and them.
“Daughter, we will tell him this: Oh, how glad we are to see you...we thank God you are home...Let us carry in your bags...” . Daughter dear, we will welcome home, as if he was the Prodigal Son. We’ll stroke his face with gentlest touch. He’s had pain enough, no doubt; sorrow enough too, I expect. Its depression times, I hope he’s had enough to eat, and no injury that keeps him from being ok. Oh, I hope he lives.
when he comes home, remember Jesus telling of the prodigal son. No questions that embarrass or make him squirm. Lets agree we’ll tell him “it makes us gladder than ever to see you.”
And then: softest sheets upon the bed, best food upon our table. And about those years he was gone away ; let him tell us what he wants, when he wants, for ...His return will be enough, for us. That will be enough. It will be that, that he needs to know. He is enough, his footsteps the walk, on the porch, in the house. We welcome him, and pray for wholeness.”
My Aunt said that it was then she learned, what formed the rest of her life.
Kindness so deep that it doesn’t leave a person stuck in the mess they’ve made,
but rather lets them see eyes that love enough to pull them out of the jumbled up way they’ve done things;
eyes that give love enough to let love grow,
eyes that show forth love enough so a person just knows
that they are enough, and are forever loved.
My Grandmother in her need, pondered so deeply the Parable of Jesus; of a son gone away.
the midst of sorrow, insult, fear, disappointment, that she learned to show love even more than before...
and so she gave the gift of telling of “welcoming to give wholeness” to her daughter.
And she knew that gift from this parable...with its welcome through deepest kindness, with no hint of recrimination, the gift that Jesus tells to show to us the acceptance God gives to us.
the whole and “whole – making” gift of accepting without boundaries and saying, “welcome home.”
through gentlest touch, nourishing meal, warming robe, and welcome words.
Jesus, Son of God, tells to you, “you are enough, come to me.” Jesus, son of God, says to you, and me, you are welcome here, I’ve set the table, come....” Jesus, son of God, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit says to you, to me, to all in every place, “in your gone for awhile times, I am with you still; seeking you, inviting you, welcoming you home. Come, oh son oh daughter, “You are enough, you are mine.”