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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Caring for Prodigal Children and Parents ~

This Reflection is dedicated to parents of prodigal children and children of prodigal parents. A most heartbreaking and distressful experience is watching loved ones choose a wayward, destructive path. Although we repeat to ourselves and others that "God is in control of everything," we live as though we are. When hardships throw us into the shadows, we mourn our helplessness and look around for someone to blame: Our culture, negative relationships, ourselves and even our God.

In the Scriptural record there are only three people whose births were announced by angels. Two come right to mind, Jesus and His cousin John. We tend to forget about Samson, the deliverer of Israel from the Philistines. We also overlook that his birth was announced by Christ Himself, the "angel of the Lord," His signature of intervention throughout the Old Testament. "Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, 'What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?' He replied, 'Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding'...As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. 'We are domed to die!' he said to his wife. 'We have seen God!'" (Judges 13:17-18, 20-22, NIV).

Like Mary and Elizabeth, Samson's parents were carefully chosen to incarnate and raise him. Manoah and his wife exceed us in spirituality and devotion to God. They were the perfect parents. A Nazirite of God, Samson grew in power, wisdom and love for God. Nonetheless, when he matured he had relations with a prostitute and things went downhill from there, becoming a prodigal son. Yet he still fulfilled his destiny and mission.

God boasted of Job's righteousness and devotion. Job was a great father to his children. He not only taught them well by speech and example, but "When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, saying, 'Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.' This was Job's regular custom" (Job 1:5). Yet great suffering infused his life and he lost his children. God never addressed the "Why?" questions Job was seeking, but did impart to him ever greater truths.

Solomon is regarded as the wisest man in history. He wrote most of the Proverbs, a manual on right living and being an effective parent and man of God. (Proverbs are not very complimentary of women, understandable when one considers he had to attend to 700 wives.) Yet he went the way of the prodigal himself, later writing the rather depressing book of Ecclesiastes.

Solomon's father, David, was declared to be "a man after God's own heart." But he, too, went prodigal, committing adultery and then murder to cover it up. He also lost a child after birth. His son, Amnon, raped his own sister, and Absalom, along with David's eight other sons, not counting those born of relationships with his concubines, were prodigals. Millions today, however, pray his psalms as our own prayers. The Christ was born in the "house of David." How interesting.

Despite the character of their parents, a model or a scorn, many children went the way of the prodigal, and so did many parents. Hearts were broken and lives seemingly ruined, yet nothing happened to thwart God's control and master mindful intended outcomes.

The prevalence of prodigals was so well known to the scriptural scholars and common people in Christ's days on earth, both historically and personally, His renowned story we call "The Prodigal Son" directly hit home to His listeners. The ending attracts most of our attention, drawing us away from the beginning, where we forget how profoundly the father must have suffered over his son's decision and abandonment of the family. Though the parable's father was evidently a model parent, the man did not refuse his son's outrageous request. There were no long talks, fights, lectures or arguments. He provided his son what he asked and bid farewell. It was a sorrowful farewell, not one of "good riddance, you disrespectful, ungrateful, immature and stupid no-son-of-mine, and some day when you come crawling back to me, I'll tell you 'I told you so, you should have listened to me,' but no! you who think you are so smart and independent." Instead, the father waited lovingly for his return and interrupted his son's prepared apology and offer of restitution with a grand celebration in his honor.

We know the father in this story is a depiction of God. We know that because that's how Jesus treated Peter. Although Jesus knew the great offense and personal tragedy Peter would foster on himself by denying that he ever knew Jesus, the Christ did not lecture Peter on courage or loyalty. He did not engage him in discussions about commitment or self-sacrificial love. By the time of their last Passover meal, Jesus had already taught them all about that. Now it was time to let go. So Jesus told Peter, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). And He left it at that.

After His resurrection, Jesus tended to Peter's wounds by asking him three times if he loved Him. After Peter cautiously replying with the Greek word for brotherly love, "phileo," in response to Jesus' use of "agape" (the way God loves you), Jesus then geared down on the third question using Peter's choice of "phileo" but still repeated His mandate, [whether it be phileo or agape] feed my sheep" (John 21:17). Later, the prodigal Peter loved Jesus with agape love, choosing to be crucified upside down for Him out of love, loyalty and devotion.

Even Jesus had His prodigal children and nations, and still does. Yet we learn from Him how to respond. Devoted Christians wish to be Christlike. Being like Christ means not blaming oneself for the prodigals in our families..."If only I took them to church more often, or put them in a Christian school, or home schooled them, or prayed more, or was a better example to them, or exercised more control and discipline" and all the other "If only" lamentations.

If you truly believe that "all things work for the good for those who love Him," then we must love Him and really live as though we believe He is in control and we are not. I also speak to the children of prodigal parents and sisters and brothers who may lament, "If only I was a better example of Christ's love, if only I talked to them more about Him, if only I spoke to them in love rather than in despairing anger or pressure." These "if only" regrets are not Christlike and can safely be abandoned. We best live by Christ's mandate, "Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be added unto you" (Luke 12:31). Note Christ did not say, "Seek control, dominance and power over your loved ones or over your own life."

Let us take the Christ at His word and live it. And recognize that we too, all of us, are prodigals, having broken His heart many times throughout our lives for "we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God." Let us live in supreme gratitude for Christ's response to our waywardness and thus, consequently, as He instructed, "Love each other as I have loved you."

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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