Two Sons: The Stage for Religious Antagonism

Lectionary Study on Luke 15

There was a man who had two sons.  ~Luke 15:11

This morning was the 4th Sunday of Lent and the gospel text was well-known — The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Or maybe you call it The Parable of the Two Sons. Or The Parable of the Forgiving Father.

The name you call this parable shows your hand, so to speak. Are you running away from the trappings of religion? Are you struggling against duty? Are you learning to forgive? (Or a host of other possibilities, this is not an exhaustive list.)

Before church I led an Adult Ed conversation about my book. In Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, one of my themes is Religious Strangers by which I explore the fact that: A pilgrim cannot avoid the painful connection between religious strangers and estrangement, which sometimes leads to violence, both historically and currently.

You cannot be a pilgrim in Israel and Palestine without confronting this question. As I say early in the book, this land is not only Holy Land, it is perhaps more frankly: The Land of Holy War. Why is that?

In class, our conversation skirted around the edges of the question, since there were other themes to address. But one of the members of the group kept circling back. He wanted me to answer the age-old question: Why do people use religion to hate each other and what can we do about it?

I could never answer the question to his satisfaction. My most direct answer is simple:  As a pilgrim I am finally daring to see this question in all its starkness, which leads me to the dark places in my own heart. Why is it so difficult for me to love my sister and brother? How can I judge others who have similar struggles?

But I hesitate to say that, because I think people expect more from a minister. They expect an answer.

Then we went into church and I read and preached the gospel. There was a man who had two sons. The story unfolds quickly and predictably. The sons take different paths, then resent the other, who chose differently. Isn’t this a theme between every pair of biblical brothers? Each wants to be the favorite.

As soon as the Parent had more than one child, the stage was set for strife.

Astounding, isn’t it, what happens next? The father opens the door to both of the sons. The younger son is blown away that his father is so forgiving. What are the implications of being loved so thoroughly?

The older son is also blown away, but not in a happy sense. He has to decide whether he will enter the party, or stay outside and feel righteous. It is not so easy to have a father who is indiscriminating in love and forgiveness.

There was a man who had two sons.

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I'm an essayist, memoirist, and Presbyterian pastor. My books are both spiritual memoirs -- "Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land" and "Ruined."