There is an interesting story in the New Testament part of the Bible. A lawyer-theologian plays a game of “trap the preacher.” In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the real “prodigal” turns out to be the father, who – to grasp the full meaning of “prodigal” – is “wildly extravagant” toward his child.
In the end, the wayward child is welcomed, restored, and elevated. What’s not to like?
Apparently, in our postmodern culture, there is much not to like. One need only consider the incessant hunt to unearth teen and post-teen posts and behaviors of current public figures so as to uncover their adolescent sins. Some call it “virtue signaling” or “vetting.”
In the end, those explorations into the long-ago sins of youth dredge up behavioral muck that most would, as adults, repudiate. Were they young prodigals? Is restoration possible? Some would say not.
That question is not easily dismissed. In a recent article in this newspaper, a pastor in our community gracefully assaulted our human predisposition to judge others without first examining our own faults. (Disclaimer: I’m not always good with the idea the I could be wrong, or even right, and that I might be commanded to show grace to others.)
Judgment is not out of the question. All of us fall short, but hand-in-hand with judgment is a central Christian teaching: reconciliation. Reconciliation is at the core of real and honest forgiveness.
Rather easy to overlook is whether “love” is a noun or a verb; in other words, is love a feeling or an action? This might not be easy to answer.
If love is a feeling, then how I feel or what my personal experiences suggest is how I define “love.” But, if “love” is a verb, then I must look at my actions as opposed to my feelings. Now I’ve crossed over to the world of conscious decision – choice not merely over feelings, but possibly in spite of them.
That choice – “I will care for you and respect you and even sacrifice myself for you” – is vastly different from “I have good feelings toward you.” Love might just require intentionality.
Reconciliation is interesting. To be reconciled to another is not a feeling; it is a conscious act. It is precisely this command that is at the core of Christian belief.
We Christians sometimes link “love” and “grace” – let me be honest here – without much thought. However, the implications are enormous.
“Reconciliation” pushes us one important step further: how to behave in the face of love as a verb, an action. To be reconciled is to be brought back “into the state of friendship or harmony” (Merriam-Webster).
I suggest that the endgame of love and forgiveness is reconciliation – the very state in which the story of the Prodigal Son is resolved.
We live in a world in which politics and faith collide, and words such as “love” and “reconciliation” get thrown about carelessly. Perhaps “mindfulness” should be replaced with intentional love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Something to think about!
Joe Crowley is director of adult discipleship at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton. firstname.lastname@example.org