THE CHURCH: The Church As Prodigal

My Writing

The Church As Prodigal by Julia Marks

The Parable of the Lost Son

Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.

So he divided to them his livelihood.  And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.  Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you,  and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”‘”

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;  for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’

“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.  So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”

We can, it seems, in the end, truly unify religion.  Bring together all churches under the same umbrella.  Looking out over history, over all the Earth, there is one thing that unites people who want to teach others about God (or our higher power): they are all corrupt.  Perhaps some to a  lesser degree than others; perhaps there’s a decade or century here and there when the debauchery of the faith has been somewhat constrained.

But it’s all there.  It’s all there everywhere.

In the eleventh century, the Roman church decided to reform.  It wanted the practice of simony out, and the authority of the pope in.  One major factor in this reform was the Cluny monasteries.  Benedictine.  That is: following the rule of Benedict — and emphasis on hard labor, abbot-ruled monasteries, and living a very simple life.

The result of this reform?  An overwhelmingly rich and powerful “mother” monastery that oversaw hundreds of under-monasteries where no monk lifted a finger to work and simple was expressed in ornate decoration and a decadent lifestyle.

From the power and wealth of the lords determining the direction of the Roman church, to the power and wealth of the clerics determining the politics of the land.

And, in truth, nothing has changed.

Anywhere.

Faiths today saturate their teachings with murder, greed, deviant sexuality, and drugs.

Oh, and don’t forget hate.  Is there one religion out there that doesn’t base some of its teachings on intolerance?

During the last election, conflicted and confused, I listened to whomever I could on what they thought.  This included a lot (a lot) of religious groups.  I was gobsmacked one day when while listening to pro-life people “express” themselves, a woman who had had an abortion and was looking to the church for healing and resolution, who wanted to speak from her sore heart and even sorer soul, was ripped to shreds like a lamb caught by a pack of starving wolves.

I couldn’t believe it, really.  The ferocity.  The maliciousness.

And it’s pretty much the same everywhere.

Everyone else is wrong.   Absolutely.

So we stand now, beginning to be aware of what we lack.  How much in want we are.  How without even the simplest resources.

But we can take heart from Jesus’s own parable.  We can see how churches, from pretty much the beginning, took what God had to give them.  Took everything God had to give.  And squandered it on power struggles, self indulgence, and vanity.

And as we look around the world we can see that no religion anywhere can stand up and represent God to people with any assurance of grace and love.  No man of God today wants to stand up to the degradation that is the church.

And, yet, we do crawl back.  Man by man.  Woman by woman.  We beg for our place back in the home — even the barn will do for us.  As individuals.

And we know that there will always be a welcome for us.  The fatted calf that tells of God’s infinite love for us that is there in communion, or just in the community that wavers on weakened legs, weakened from all our previous misfortunes and spiritual illnesses.

And Jesus is there, too.  The older brother.  Except he’s not angry with us.  Not jealous of his Father’s warm embrace of us.  He’s there at the feast, too.  Loving us, in our shame and humiliation.

It’s funny how this parable can be about our personal restoration to the graces of God.  But it can also be about our corporate restoration to the kingdom of Heaven.

Perhaps one of our greatest sins is how we don’t look beyond the end of our noses to see that our fall is bigger than just ourselves.  That our faith, our religion, our church needs also to repent.  To seek salvation.  To want to be in an active and a real relationship with God.

Sunday in Saint Christina’s in Budapest and Fruitstand Next Door

Antonio Cisneros
(translated from the Spanish by Wayne H. Finke)

It is raining on the peaches and pears,
their skins shiny under the deluge
like Roman helmets in their baskets.
It is raining midst the snoring of the surf
and the iron derricks. The priest
is wearing Advent green and a microphone.
I know neither his language
nor the century when this church was founded.
But I know the Lord is in his mouth:
for me guitars, the fattest calf,
the richest tunic, sandals,
for I was lost
more than a grain of sand in Black Point,
more than rainwater midst the waters
of the turbid Danube.
For I was dead and I am resurrected.

It is raining on the peaches and pears,
seasonal fruit whose name I know not, but I know
of their taste and smell, their color
that changes with the times.
I do not know the customs or face of the fruitseller
—his name is a sign—
but I know that this holiday season and the fattened cow
await him at the end of the labyrinth
like all good birds
tired of rowing against the wind.
For I was dead and I am resurrected,
praised be the name of the Lord,
Whatever his name under this vivifying rain.

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