It is important for us to understand what is taking place in the context of this parable if we are to grasp learning from it that actually may be intended for us to grasp.
For the past several weeks and for the next coming weeks, the parables and stories we will hear all come following Jesus’ triumphant return to the city of Jerusalem and in the context of his going to the temple to teach.
The temple authorities were not happy with the display of honor given to Jesus on his return. (Palm Sunday Reading)
There is a bit of jealousy, a bit of wounded pride, and a bit of fear.
Maybe they won’t be given the respect they had.
The parables all challenge the ways that the temple leaders have been leading….and that upsets them deeply.
Jesus is revealing an understanding of God that doesn’t fit their understandings or their teachings.
An all-merciful, all-forgiving, all-loving God, who doesn’t demand temple payments, public shaming, or overly burdensome retribution, those things don’t jive with the temple authorities.
Maybe that is still some of the challenges that we face today?
It is hard to believe in and understand a God who is so radically lavish with Grace.
We often want retribution….an eye for an eye….but of course we would never allow ourselves to say it with such stark honesty….so we couch it in softer, more palatable terms.
We want and we get retribution….
We create jails, and prisons, and courts of law, that develop grid systems….
here is the crime and here is the time….. as if sin, fault, and failing can be squeezed into a box and solved by delving out penance…..is there a difference between five Our Fathers and Five Hail Mary’s and a five-year sentence? Eerily similar isn’t it?
By the way….the word penitentiary comes directly from penance.
How contrary that all seems to the words of Jesus….
”I tell you prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you.”
I had the opportunity last week to do a webinar with Commissioner Paul Schnell and Archbishop Bernard Hebda and two other Chaplain companions.
And in that gathering, I was asked to talk about ministry in the context of Prison.
I shared with them this insight which I have come to realize in these past few months. I came to Prison, 10 years ago thinking I would be sharing my love of God with the men inside those walls.
Now I have come to realize, I have actually come to Prison and met God there!
Many of the men with whom I walk every day understand intimately their own weaknesses, their faults, and their failings, and in their humility, the face of God shines forth.
They are more than willing to let others know, they are not bad people, they just did some very bad things, and made some extremely bad decisions, and caused extreme amounts of pain for others and themselves.
And in their humility, they have discovered that God still loves them, even if others don’t or can’t or won’t.
I wonder who in our lives we have decided is beyond God’s love?
Love in dreams is easy, Dostoevsky wrote; but the reality of it is a dreadful assault—not on our deepest longings, but on those tawdry delusions that pose as solutions to them.