Forgive Us Christchurch!Posted on: March 22, 2019, by : David
Much has happened in the world since I last wrote: the horrific massacre of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, NZ; the trolling of AFLW footballers on Facebook; the news of another high profile male AFL footballer taking time out for mental health reasons; a Senator making offensive and inappropriate remarks about Muslim immigration (inappropriate in both content and timing); #eggboi responding publicly and messily to those comments; a 24-hour Twitter rant by President Trump, attacking his perceived enemies in politics (both sides and including the late John McCain), media, business and world leaders. I’m sure you could add to this list from your own experience!
While there are obviously degrees of ‘seriousness’ attached to the actions in this list, they may have more in common than we realise. All these instances are symptomatic of the broken world in which we live, evidence of a deep dysfunction at the heart of (Western) society, a dysfunction into which the gospel reading for this third Sunday of Lent may speak.
The reading is the familiar parable of the Prodigal Son, and it tells the story of a regular but dysfunctional family – the young prodigal who fritters away his fortune, the elder son who is quick to condemn, and the gracious father who longs to embrace them both. It is not hard to see echoes of the attitude of the prodigal in those whose actions feature in our opening list. ‘It’s my right! I deserve what’s mine! It’s my life and I’ll do what I want, when I want and where I want!’ Perhaps more surprising are the echoes of the elder self-righteous son that are evident in the community response: quick to condemn, quick to apportion blame, perhaps too-readily dismissing the actions/words as aberrant and not representative of the rest of us. ‘They’re responsible for what they did/said, and they deserve to be punished so get on with it.’ Fold the arms, stamp the foot, have nothing to do with them!
In this scenario the older son fails to recognise his complicity, his shared responsibility for his brother’s choices. Not direct compliance perhaps, but indirect and subtle responsibility through his acquiescence and inactivity as attitudes and values were formed, or through the unintended impact of his overbearing self-righteousness. Of course, people have to take responsibility for their individual actions and attitudes, but those attitudes are always formed in community, in and out of relationship with others, and the community must take some responsibility for that shaping.
In the background stands the gracious, loving father seeking to embrace both his sons, and to reconcile them to each other. This may appear to be a cliched and perhaps too-simplistic resolution to the dysfunction that is represented in both the gospel story and the story of our world, but it does seem to speak some truth. As a community we ought to take some responsibility for the atrocities that disturb us. We ought to acknowledge our complicity in creating an environment in which such aberrations can erupt. We might be less self-righteous and more gracious, seeking forgiveness for our communal dysfunction and viewing with the eye of pity both the aggrieved and the offender. And we might seek to live with kindness and compassion, grace and mercy, gentleness and love for all people. Love. It may be simplistic, it may be counter-intuitive, but it’s the gospel, and it just might work.