I did know the story, and had known it all my life. In kindergarten, I had colored in simple line illustrations of the muddy prodigal son surrounded by pigs; I had been to youth retreats where I was encouraged to think of the ways in which I needed to spiritually turn around and go back home; I had heard sermons discussing how damaging we are to others when we behave like the older brother. I knew the story, and I knew what it meant. So I arrived at that month’s meeting, looking forward to a pleasant evening with some good friends going over some familiar ideas.
We sat there, discussing the story, sharing our faith journeys. Sometimes we were the prodigal, sometimes we were the older brother. The evening was pretty much going as expected. But then, something surprising happened. During one of those occasional lulls in conversation, one of the members asked off-handedly, “How come we’re never the father?” A short silence followed. People sat up a little straighter, leaned in towards one another, and there was a new sense of energy in the room. Together, we realized that, while eagerly discussing who we are, we had missed what we are called to become. That evening, the story we had known all our lives was suddenly unfamiliar, something new, something fresh.
We are the prodigals, we are the “good children” – often simultaneously. The call of the Gospel, though, asks us to transcend both those roles. Jesus wants us to be the father – loving, forgiving, and deeply hospitable. The father doesn’t make the son apologize, doesn’t wait in the living room for his child to come to him, stammering out his repentance. No, the father runs out to embrace his son before his son has even spoken. “How come we’re never the father?” What a difference that question made! A story that had been a call to introspection, to self-examination, had suddenly become a call to action, a reminder of our purpose in the world. We left the discussion group that night revitalized. Our little community learned a new story.
Since that evening, I try to resist the temptation of think of the Bible as “something I’ve read,” or “a story I know.” I discovered then, and continue to discover, that God always has new stories for us, and I need to pay attention. For me, the St. Andrew’s community is essential to that attentiveness. Someone will ask a question or make a comment, and I’m given a new idea to explore. Whether it’s watching a little girl bouncing up to receive the Eucharist in a princess dress, an unexpected question at the adult forum, or a casual conversation at coffee hour, something happens to remind me there is always something new. God has a lot more to say to me, to all of us. I may have “been there, read that” many times, but something exciting is waiting if I’m willing to let go of the story I’m so sure I know.
In Revelation, we see Jesus, sitting enthroned in glory, saying “Behold, I make all things new.” We take great comfort in this assurance of things to come. We know and love that story. But…….what happens if “behold, I make all things new” is also an invitation to find the fresh and new dwelling within the old and familiar? What if Jesus is telling us to “behold” right this minute? What new stories might the Spirit be waiting to tell us?
~ Catherine Campbell