I have the privilege to be able to go to seminary and study some pretty incredible things. What’s the point of that if I cannot share what I have learned? So, here’s a tidbit I thought others might enjoy.
The set up:
We’re all pretty familiar with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (though a refresher never hurts, right? Read Luke 15:11-32). A son tires of waiting on his rich father to die, and does what any sensible son would do. He says, “You know, Dad, I’d kind of rather you were dead, but since you’re not can I get all the booty you’re going to leave for me anyway?” Obviously, this is pretty insulting.
However, what is really unfortunate about the request is that this father would never have had money sitting around. As George Bailey told us in It’s a Wonderful Life , “The money's not here. Your money's in Joe's house... And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin's house, and a hundred others.” Only instead of Joe’s house it was a cow. And instead of the Kennedy’s house it was a cow. And instead of Mrs. Macklin’s house it was the wages of local workers. And instead of a hundred other houses it was a hundred other cows. You get the picture. The point is that in order to fulfill the son’s request, the father would have had to sell many of his possessions and not employ as many workers. Yet, this is exactly what the father does. Naturally, then, the son takes the money, lavishly wastes it (thus prodigal son), and comes crawling back to his father.
The cool stuff I Learned:
So, at Seminary I learned about a practice called Kezazah. This would have been familiar to the first century hearers of Jesus’ parable, but is something we miss out on because we are so far removed from that context. Kezazah was a practice in which a community could reject a person before they came into town. People would take their clay pots and go out in front of someone entering the town. They would smash the pot on the ground and yell that this person was “cut-off” from the community. It was a way to let everyone know that this person was rejected by the whole community and he or she would never again be welcome.
What’s the point:
I grew up in Wooster, Ohio. I remember a short period of time during which several major businesses closed up their doors and left the city for good. People were laid off in droves, and almost everyone knew someone who had suddenly found themselves without work. How do you think people of the city would have felt if the CEO’s of these companies came waltzing back into town a few years later? This is probably somewhat similar to how the returning prodigal son would have been received. His selfish request would have likely cost many people in the surrounding community their means of living. The moment the first townsman saw the son coming I bet he shouted to his wife, “Juniper, grab our clay pots! We have got some Kezazah-ing to do!”
Guess what? The parable says that “while [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father ran to his son. This selfish son had insulted his father in one of the worst ways possible, rent his family apart, damaged the livelihood of his father and the entire surrounding community, and had disappeared for years to frivolously lose it all. Yet, he did not even have a chance to open his mouth to apologize or explain himself before the father runs to him. Why? Undoubtedly, the father wanted to prevent the inevitable Kezazah of the angry community. They wanted nothing to do with such a terrible person. He ruined their lives. So, the father disgraces himself by running in front of everyone (something that was culturally unacceptable for a man of his age and stature at this time), in order to get to his son before anyone can smash a pot and exile him from the community.
Why it matters:
Haven’t we all asked for our inheritance? Haven’t we all acted selfishly before God? Perhaps we even have sins that feel too horrific to bring before God because we are certain that God would not forgive us. We certainly would not tell others of such sins knowing that they would reject us. What we did deserves no forgiveness. Yet, when we turn ourselves humbly to God, God runs to us as the father does in the parable. No matter how far gone we are, God will not let us be cut off. All we have to do is point ourselves to God and begin to move towards God. Society may push us away. Sadly, even Christians reject us at times for our sins. But God is anxious to receive us. God runs to us to embrace us and offer forgiveness so that we cannot be cut-off. Just as the father took the shame of the son upon himself by running, God has taken on our shame.
What to do with this:
I cannot speak for everyone, but this impacts me in two ways. 1) It gives a sense of relief. I no longer need to feel burdened by my sin—no matter what it may be. I need not fear approaching God in confession; God will run to meet me and transform my life from sin. 2) I need to learn radical forgiveness. We are called to forgive others as we have been forgiven. If God forgives us as the father forgave the prodigal son, then certainly I can learn to forgive those that have wronged me—no matter how undeserved that forgiveness might be.