27 March, Sunday — Reservations and Restoration

4th Sunday of Lent

Jos 5:9,10-12
2 Cor 5:17-21
Lk 15:1-3,11-32

My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.

It is not easy to trust. This is why an entire profession is devoted to drafting and securing confident contracts. Written agreements exist in the world of business and commerce to ensure that various parties do not breach each other’s trust.

I find that it is similarly in our human nature to reserve our trust, to presume the lack of it first, in order to not be found vulnerable. However, this is the sinful part of our natures, one that typically arises from wounds and broken trust. Why do I say so?

Look at a new born…under normal circumstances, a child born to its mother is quickly brought to mum and placed on her chest, skin-to-skin, where her heart is. An infant comes into the world from the warmth and intimacy of a mother’s womb to the shocking relative cold of the ambient environment, crying. It is only upon being reunited to its mother’s body, that the baby returns to a restful and calm state. Assured of protection, familiarity, love and security, the newborn will hopefully begin to nurse. This is the first intuitive and instinctive demonstration of trust.

But thereon, the world often reveals its fallen nature.

The scripture we behold today is about repentance, redemption and restoration. From the time of the wandering Israelites in Gilgal, to the letter from Paul to the Corinthians, to the parable of the two sons as told by Jesus, God uses history and story to relay to us that He, the heavenly and prodigal father, is faithful.

If only we would truly listen.

Yet, we often withhold our trust from God. It is a desperate measure to retain some semblance of control and (will)power over our lives, our choices, our directions. The older son in the parable had seen the unrelenting forgiveness and love of his father, displayed for his younger brother. Instead, he bore resentment thinking of the unfairness of his own lot. He compared his greater faithfulness to the father and the household by his unsevered length of service – “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders…” – and could not reconcile that his father had chosen to receive, wholeheartedly, the repentance of his wayward brother. What a total bum!

In retaliation, he chose to withhold and reserve his love and forgiveness from both brother and father. ‘He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him.’ Instead, he had chosen, in a different way, to stand outside his father’s love. He chose to evict himself emotionally and spiritually from the household and the reunion happening before him. This was his desperate measure to retain power over a situation in which he felt disregarded.

But, if the father were any tyrant at all, the older brother would have been banished!

Imagine this… “Is it your turn now to sever ties with me?! How dare you spoil my joyous occasion! If you wish so, leave! Be gone and let’s see if you would survive at all, like your brother, without my estate!”  

Instead, we are disarmed by the collected, gentle, and loving assurance, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.” The parable ends here. We never know how the older son chooses. I believe Jesus intentionally ends here because the baton is passed to us – we are now invited to respond personally to Jesus’ invitation.

How many among us have had fathers and mothers who might have spoken such unreserved forgiveness into our moments of petulance and errors? Are there some among us who wished we were blessed with the grace of empathy and tenderness from our parental figures, and early authority figures in our lives, while we were going through inward and outward turmoil? Might these alternative encounters have shaped differently our ability to trust in God when He alone says, “I forgive you, I love you, you are mine”?

In truth, it is extremely hard to trust in full and complete redemption and restoration in this broken world.

I believe we all come around to this fork in the road of choosing reservation or restoration with God at various junctures in life. Whether brought here by the winds of mishaps or willfulness, we behold two paths in the road. A disposition of distrust paves the first path — ‘Reservation’ — with rocky and sharp turns. It is a hard road to take.

What about the second path — ‘Repentance’? Yet, if we look to scripture today to imagine our dialogue with the generous and loving father, we could perhaps lay down our emotional armour and pray for our Heavenly Father to place the cloak of ‘Repentance’ upon our shoulders. Indeed, this ‘finest robe’ is our prayer of humility and desire to repent. If even this is hard, then feel no shame to pray for just the simple desire to want to repent!

There is no doubt that God sees how long a way off we still are from the fold! He alone will rush out with compassion to meet us, embrace us, and receive us even at the junction of the fork – if we so desire!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Father, I am stuck. Help me to want to find my way back to you. Help me to realise I am lost. Help me to see the truth of where I am now. Help me to believe You, that I am worthy of love and redemption. Help me to trust that You intend to restore me to glory in Your plan for my life.

Thanksgiving: Lord, I am no longer complacent of the gifts you have bestowed on me. I am aware that I have been blinded by the finery, titles and details of the material world. Thank you for lifting this veil over my eyes. Thank you for showing me the truth of who I am in You – beloved and worthy.

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