In the Prodigal son there are many thoughts to be drawn out but perhaps two need highlighting. Bailey points out that the initial thoughts of the son are with regards to himself and his future stability in the life of the community. He knows that the village from which he left, the community, will perform a ceremony that will exile him from that community itself if such an offer of restitution is not made and accepted. It is utter rejection that he faces not just his Father's possible anger and hoped for forgiveness. His plan as he conceives it, is to become a servant of his Father and then make financial restitution through his work and wages. In doing this he secures for himself well being and a return to a semblance of life.
The second point is the Father's reaction to the Son's return. The Father discards all honour as befits a man of his status, by 'running' as in a footrace. Robes girded around his waist, running through the village street to meet his son on the border of the village before any ceremony of rejection can be undertaken. Servants and villagers follow. The son in seeing the Father's great love shown to him comes to realise that it is not the financial aspect that has caused the break but the relationship between Father and Son. His Father is willing to loose all respect for him his son. He therefore does not fulfill his plan but simply asks for forgiveness saying he is unworthy of the love that has been displayed. His Father responds by kissing him in welcome and telling the servants (must already be there) to dress him in the finest robe and to give him the seal of the house (signet ring). He then invites all to an extravagant feast with the killing of the fatted calf. In doing this he ensures the son's acceptance by the servants and by the village elders; returning him to community.
Reconciliation is more than a static thing it is flowing looking to the future not the past.
Reconciliation Statue, Belfast, Northern Ireland
We have heard this all before but when I look at how we behave in light of our own removal from community as a result of abuse or failing I have difficulty in seeing the Father's presence both as individuals and as members of society or institutions. At what point does our need for retribution stop? At what point does our need to inflict our revenge and the removal of people from community stop? When will we start acting as if we had compassion rather than anger in our hearts? I am not supporting those who have abused or who have covered up abuse. I am not unsympathetic to the hurts, disruption and harm such abuse entails. Although I have no personal experience of such long and deep disruption of relationship I still wonder what must take place for healing? If, the Prodigal's story can do nothing else it must surely point us in one direction and one direction only, forgiveness and restoration of relationship must start by releasing our griefs and sorrows by discarding our own honour that requires the satisfaction of revenge / restitution / etc.
How can we nurse a hurt for 74 plus years in such a manner that we want someone to 'pay for it' with jail? If this is what we have done for our life, allowed a wound to be fester in our hearts, what has become of that life? Yes, the abuse was horrific, yes we feel better that someone has been brought to account, yes we have all been hurt by the horror of it all. I no more and no less than everyone else, as part of the community, has been torn asunder by the perpetration of such horror and abuse within the community. But does money, does life in jail, does restitution in these terms bring healing to the community and the victim and the perpetrator after this period of time? Are we not left with a bitterness in our mouths that continues, a bitterness that does not allow the community to knit and become healed? We do not see a future but only a past.
For all it's faults the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa brought this aspect to the fore. The healing of a community rent by abuse requires both truth and reconciliation. This path is not easy. It is one that is fraught with difficulty but it is the one taught to us by Christ in this parable and the ones preceding it. We cannot stop the abuse that has occurred. We can only open ourselves up to the truth and seek our re-commitment to a love which is far greater than our selfish needs. In doing so we put into place within the community the safeguards that will protect us from abuse in the future. We recognise the failings that have allowed such abuse to occur and we respond in love not retribution. We recognise our own abused 'honour' and allow that to go in the face of a love, which accepts the need to bring those who have fallen back into love. We recognise our 'honour' as a barrier to that love as we recognise the other beyond the barrier we have erected to prevent our failings from showing. In the same way a mother loves a child who has wronged. There is no price on that love who are we to put one there? We can only step into a new future healed by love and not marred by hatred.