Forgive Us Our Debts
At his very lowest, as he considered embezzling slop from the pigs he fed, this man in the story Jesus just told us had to have ached at how utterly hopeless his situation had become. He stood trapped, deeply mired in the consequences of his own hatred, selfishness and indulgence.
In God, among God’s people, in God’s household – you can find rest, real and lasting rest, peace.
And yet, something, some force, some hope draws him toward home. It’s hope that works through him as a restlessness and dissatisfaction that feels like hunger, but goes deeper. His spirit, his soul is starving. Through the hunger, through the restlessness, he is inspired: humiliation and poverty are unbearable away from God, God’s promise, God’s covenant. Better to live in humiliation and poverty within the boundaries of God’s promise, numbered as one of God’s people, than die estranged from God in a foreign land.
This tells us something about God’s Holy Spirit, too, and the holy work the Spirit does to us and in us. If I were to guess, I would say that most of us would recognize the moving of God’s Spirit in our life as a feeling of peace, or warmth; light or enlightenment. Good and powerful feelings, maybe tears of joy or the feeling of weight being lifted. In the younger brother’s moment of inspiration he may have felt any one of these – but also a hunger, a restlessness and the overwhelming feeling to run like crazy away.
The Holy Spirit, stirring and moving, were at work in him long, long before his bright and shining moment of repentance. He’s a restless soul from the beginning. He wants to run away from the first sentence. He’s dissatisfied, hungry, starving. What’s going to fill the emptiness inside? He misinterprets his own hunger, though. He can’t see or hear or understand that God’s Spirit works in excruciating and uncomfortable ways sometimes. He has issues with the Father; he thinks breaking off that relationship will satisfy him. He has issues with his place in this world, and he thinks that the answer lies out there somewhere -- changing location and people, values and beliefs, loyalties and religion – will fill the deep down hunger. But by running away from his God, God’s people and his place in God’s kingdom, he finds the hunger in him grows. He self medicates, but God continues to drive him, haunt him, torment him. Finally, he surrenders. He turns, and now God’s Spirit drives him home.
How is God bothering you, I wonder? What is God saying to you through your hunger, your restlessness, your dissatisfaction? God will not let you go. God will pursue you. God will go with you … no matter where you try to run or hide. God will not let you rest … until you rest in God, in God’s arms. There is a moment in this story where I think this younger brother finally get what he’s been looking for his entire life. It is that moment when his Father comes running towards him and hits him and wraps him up with such force that his breath is taken away. He knows then and there God’s love. His debt is forgiven. His life is redeemed. He is loved. He’s a son, an heir, and part of this household – but now in an entirely new way.
You are loved in the same way. God loves you – the you that you are. And through Christ’s death and resurrection, through our baptism into his death and new life, we are members of God’s household and heirs to God’s promise. In God, among God’s people, in God’s household – you can find rest, real and lasting rest, peace.
Now, there’s another brother in this story. The older brother – just as restless, just as dissatisfied, but better at holding it all inside, keeping up appearances. There’s rest for him, too. It’s inside the celebration; it’s in forgiveness – letting go of the grudges, the fear, the anger; it’s in redemption and being welcomed into the new family that is being forged in the power of God’s Spirit.
And maybe that’s why Jesus has us pray that God forgive us our debts according to how we forgive others their debts. We can never really experience the fullness of God’s love for us, God’s forgiveness, God’s new life for us by standing outside the celebration of God’s grace that God has started. In forgiving others, we get a taste, a glimpse of the Father’s love, and we are transformed, too. Only by letting go and forgiving his brother the debt he owes the family, will the brother understand the true love of brother – which is worth more than all the money, all the land and all the stuff that we can by. Only in forgiving will the brother understand his connection to Father and to brother and sister is our inheritance, our peace, our rest … in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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