Friday, January 10, 2014

Compassionate Brother (part 18 of 18)

In the parable of the prodigal, the younger son returns home, doing so with the knowledge that he is taking a risk and potentially putting his life in jeopardy.  If he is seen and recognized by the community, he is possibly going to be subject to stoning at worst, and a very public ceremony of shaming at best.  However, Jesus says that “while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him: he ran and hugged his son and kissed him” (Luke 15:20b).  Like Esau running to Jacob, the compassionate father ran to his son, subjecting himself to loss of honor (increase in shame).  As is said of Esau, who did not take it upon himself to inflict pain and suffering on Jacob, the compassionate father, following the model of the compassionate brother, shamed and dishonored himself, rather than allowing his son to suffer. 

As Esau hugged and kissed his brother, enduring the shame and extending compassion, so too did the father and true star of the parable hug and kiss his son, in a similar demonstration of merciful compassion.  The son of the parable attempted to execute the plan that he formulated and rehearsed, but before he was able to deliver his prepared speech, the father cuts him off and restores him to the position of honor as if he had never wronged his father, his family, or his community.  Likewise, Jacob’s planning and preparations were wholly unnecessary, as Esau welcomed him with open arms, celebrating a joyous reunion with no apparent thought of retribution or a need to re-pay (thought Jacob is revealed to not be fully convinced of his brother’s compassion). 

The father in the parable exclaims that “this son of mine was dead, and is alive again---he was lost and is found!” (15:24a).  Esau, who had wished his brother dead, and to whom he was effectively dead, celebrates the return of his brother---alive again.  Here are the stories of a compassionate brother and a compassionate father, who dealt with a brother and a son whose stories shared some common features.  Both had been dishonored and both had been shamed.  Both had the right to take vengeance.  Both exercised compassion. 

Both stories, as told to and for a people of the covenant-making and providential Creator God that seeks to reconcile His image-bearers and His world to Himself, reveal a God that revels in compassion---willing to take the pain and shame and suffering that rightfully belong to others upon Himself (there was no greater shame than the curse of the cross) so as to set His world to rights, restore the beings created and set forth as His image in the world, and show forth His kingdom and His glory.           

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