From Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

If you have a brother or a sister . . . if you have a child . . . or a parent . . .  or any kind of ongoing relationship with anyone . . . more than likely, you can identify in some way—somewhere—with someone—in this parable. . . .
Are you the thrill-seeking, risk-taking, impulsive and sometimes irresponsible rebellious child?   Are the duty-bound, always dependable, hard-working and conscientious, predictable child?  Or are you somewhere in between? 

Are you an anxious and watchful parent—I think they’re called helicopter parents these days?  Are you eager to forgive?  Do you keep score in your relationships? 
Do you harbor resentments?  Do you lavish love liberally?  Or do you dole it out carefully based on merit?  Just where do you fit into this story?

Wherever it is, it is easy to get stuck in the roles we play and the behaviors that have worn ruts in our lives.  After much time and investment, it is often hard for us to switch gears and to find grace and goodness in different possibilities for ourselves or in the actions of others who have chosen a different path.  And it may be hard to believe that we—or anyone else—can, in any substantive way, actually do things differently.  It’s easy to get stuck.
In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son—contrary to the way you may have learned it—there is no “good” guy and “bad” guy—no “right” way and “wrong” way.  There is no “sinner” and no “saint.”  There are simply two brothers who have chosen different paths.  And both desperately need compassion—they need compassion for themselves and compassion for each other.  But they are stuck.  They are stuck in the decisive roles they have taken on—in their family systems—in the ways the world desperately seeks to pigeonhole us.  They are stuck in the behaviors that place them at odds with one another.  They are stuck in doing things in the same ways over and over.  They are stuck in their pain and grief and anger.  They are stuck with dried up and stale notions in their heads about what constitutes actual worth and ultimate value in the eyes of their family and in the eyes of their God. 

They are just plain stuck.
And yet, stuck is what they know; it’s become comfortable and familiar.  And they are afraid to change—even if they thought it was possible.  Perhaps like some of us, they are not only afraid of change for the challenges it brings. . . . They are also afraid that change means acknowledging the faults and flaws that they don’t want others to see or know about, acknowledging that they aren’t perfect, that they need help, that they need others. 

Perhaps they are afraid that they’re simply not enough—that they’re just not loveable, not worthy of that compassion and forgiveness that they so desperately need, that they’re not capable of receiving grace.  And this fear colors every move they make. . . .  But they just aren’t willing or able to risk enough to challenge the fear.  And so, stuck they stay.
If you don’t think you are enough, or have enough, or do enough, it is easy to remain stuck or to fall into old and destructive behaviors.  It is easy to assume the worst. 
So, we see, it is easy for the younger brother to ask for all he can now and to spend it all at once to live the high life, for even for a short time, because he is uncertain and fearful about his future—sure it won’t last and not believing he deserves it to last. 
And it is easy for the older brother to cast a harsh judgment because he has always acted in responsible ways—even if his motives were always to please others—and always fearful that he won’t measure up in some way to some unattainable goal.

In this place in their lives, they stand at a crossroads with well-worn ruts at their feet.  And they feel immobilized—operating by rote—going through the motions of their lives instead of living—perhaps even unconsciously doing only what others expect them to do—not what they want to do, not what they need, not what is life-giving, hopeful, and compassionate.  And many of us know that those kinds of expectations can beat us up and tear us down.  Those expectations can wage war on the tender parts of us that cry out for forgiveness, transformation, compassion, and love. 
But the courage they need to do something different seems out of their grasp. . . . 

Are we stuck doing things in the same way in the same places for the same people? 

Are we stuck making decisions that confine us into narrow boxes and identify us in constricted categories? 
Breaking out of the immobilization that often claims us can feel like moving against solid rock.  It might even feel like it is pushing back against us. . . .  To get out of the stuck places and stuck behaviors takes tremendous courage and incredible compassion.  It requires opening ourselves up to the possibilities of transformation that can come from some truly unexpected places.  Jesus’ parable reminds us of that. 

For the younger brother in the parable, it came while he (a Jew) was literally stuck in the muck feeding pigs!  And the parable further reminds us that no matter who we are, we are worthy of compassion; that no matter where we are on life’s journey, we warrant tremendous grace; that no matter what we do or what we’ve done in our lives, we carry God’s divine spark within us.
Recently, I heard the poet-philosopher David Whyte tell a powerful story about being stuck. . . .  He was at a bridge in the Himalayas. . . .  He was planning to meet up with some friends, and he had taken an alternate route to get to the town where they were to meet.  In order to get there, he had to cross this bridge.  But one of the bridge’s cables had collapsed.  And this was a bridge over a 400 foot chasm.  The way he described it, I was picturing the setting of an Indiana Jones movie.  Some of the wooden planks of the bridge were missing, and others had slid together making huge gaps in places.  And there was this one cable going across—one at the top and one on the bottom.  To get across you would have to swing across on the one intact cable leaping from one plank to the next. . . . 
At least, that’s what David Whyte assumed you’d have to do because he said there was no way he was going across that bridge.  There he was, alone, high in the Himalayas, at one side of a collapsed bridge.  And he just stood there.
He describes this moment as unusual for him because ordinarily he would try anything.  He was very adventurous and welcomed physical challenges.  But in that place, he felt intense fear.  And he refused to go across.  He sat there for 15 minutes, ½ hour, 45 minutes.  In the Himalayas, I imagine, time loses its meaning.  There’s not a lot to do.  No phone calls to make, no emails to answer. . . .  an hour passed, an hour and ½ . . . .  And he did what we all might do when the bridge we face is down: he just stared at it—intensely—hoping, that just by staring at it, it would spontaneously repair itself.  And he would be able to walk across easily and in full glory.  But the bridge refuses to repair itself.  And we stay stuck.
And he says he was just about to pick up his bag and go back down the way he came when along the path came an old Tibetan lady with a big, wide-mouth dung basket, which was used to collect dried yak dung for fuel. 

There is very little fuel at 10 or 11,000 feet, and so the older people and young kids go around with these wide-mouth dung baskets, collecting yak dung which is precious for cooking. Well, this old Tibetan lady with her wise, kind face and broad smile came up the path throwing dung over her shoulder into the basket.  And as she came, David was preparing to go back down the trail and preparing to take an extra couple of days to go around and meet his friends somewhere else.
And in the Himalayas, everyone greets one another on the trail with “Namaste”—“I greet the God in you.”  “I greet what is divine in you.”  This old woman came up, quite intent in her dung gathering, and when she caught of him, she looked up with a big smile.  Then she bowed—like this—“Namaste.”  And so, he bowed back, “Namaste.”  And before he could lift his head up again, she just went right past him across the bridge. . . .
And then, without thinking, he picked up his bag and went right after her. . . .
There are times in our lives when the part of us that always does it right—always gets it right—the respectable and honorable, responsible and dependable parts of us have to sit down.  There are some bridges in our lives where the broken parts of us—the parts that make mistakes and act irresponsibly—the parts that need healing and compassion, forgiveness and grace have to lead the way and take us across.  The parts of us we thought weren’t any good—the parts that are flawed, imperfect—the parts we would never post on Facebook—the parts we didn’t believe could serve any purpose . . . they are sometimes the parts that open us up, help us get unstuck, see us through, and show us the way. 
And this transformation can come from some truly unexpected places if we are open to it.  If we truly believe in the message of Namaste—in seeing the divine spark in one another—in seeing the divine spark in ourselves.  If, in spite of our faults and flaws, we allow compassion to lead us. . . . and if we are not afraid to follow.
It is easy to get stuck in the roles we are used to.  It is easy to forget or to lose the ability to recognize the holy all around us and in one another.  So, may we remember to extend greater compassion to ourselves and one another—in spite of—even because of—our faults and flaws.  God’s love wants to surround and fill each one of us. Let it be so. Amen. Namaste.   


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