Stories: Parables for our time and all time
Jesus was often
telling stories that show how closely resurrection relates to the reality of daily
life. Take his parable of the prodigal son. The young man who took his inheritance
and fled off into the desert, into Egypt, and there squandered his fortune, falling
into humiliation and poverty and servitude. For all intents and purposes, it was
as though he were dead.
As we know, eventually the young man
returned home and was greeted by his father. "Bring the fatted calf and kill
it, we are going to have a feast because this son of mine was lost and now is
found, he was dead and has come back to life."
So the young
man was restored to his home, to his family, to his native country and to God.
The return of the prodigal son is actually a parable of the resurrection. It ends
with a homecoming celebration.
Just like the resurrection stories
of Easter. On the third day he rose again. Like the prodigal son Jesus returned
to his home, to his native land, to his family and friends. And when he returned
they celebrated by sharing a meal. They roasted fish and drank wine on the shore
of the Tiberias. The same Jesus whom they have know and love is with them again.
Like the parable of the prodigal son, the story of his resurrection reflects the
patterns of our own lives. It is spun out of the fabric of our own existence.
In this life of ours there are all those mysterious twistings and turnings that
lead from life through the valley of the shadow of death toward a new creation.
And always the joyous homecoming.
It's not only the Bible
that contains these resurrection stories. ...
Not long ago I shared
the unfolding of another parable of resurrection. It revolves around a small boy
of about seven who was stricken with a fatal, ferocious and fast growing cancer.
He had been treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering with every sort of therapy known
to science. But nothing further could be done.
could administer one more dose of some experimental drug, but actually there was
no real hope of recovery. And the side effects could only complicate the progression
of the disease.
So the family and the doctors gathered in the
little boy's room for a final conference concerning his treatment. They had tried
almost everything, what could they possibly think of next? Finally the boy spoke
up in a clear, crisp voice, "What I really want to do is to go home and learn
how to ride my two wheeler."
The bicycle had been a Christmas
present. It had those little trainer wheels attached. But before the boy had gained
enough confidence to remove the trainer wheels the cancer caught up with him and
he was sent to the hospital. Learning how to ride a two wheeler was the last thought
the doctors or the parents would have contemplated. It just didn't seem possible.
The boy was already physically weakened, why encourage him to do something that
clearly would not be possible for very long even if he could succeed.
the boy insisted and the resistance of the doctors and his parents melted away
under the withering assurances of his clear brown eyes. And home they went.
thirty minutes after they had settled in, they were out in the yard, the boy insisting
that his father take off the training wheels and let him have a go at it.
but anxiously, his father took out his wrench and removed the training wheels
to let him go. To their surprise, after only two false starts and one fall the
boy was able to steer the bike, somewhat erratically to be sure. "And now,"
he said with mounting assurance in his voice, "Now I want to ride it by myself
all the way around the block." Before anyone could stop him, he was off,
up the street and around the corner out of sight. There were those few minutes
of suspense as the parents, brother and little sister, waited for him to appear
at the other end of the block, and after what seemed an eternity, there he was,
headed for home, a gigantic expression of triumph and satisfaction written on
the excitement had settled down, the boy retired to his bedroom, and asked if
he could be left alone with his little sister. He had his father bring the shiny
blue bike into the bedroom. It sat there in the corner, a gleaming symbol of life.
Then the boy turned to his little sister and said, "I won't be needing the
bicycle anymore. I want you to have it for your birthday. I hope you enjoy it
as much as I did."
From under the shadow of death, and
in the midst of life's deepest tragedies, there comes the resurrection of life.
In giving his life for us, Jesus revealed that we too can move
from moments of trial toward the joy which Christ's true disciples share. We too
can make it through periods of boredom or self absorption and find that sense
of purpose which is God's will for us. We too can confront sickness and physical
suffering and come through the valley of the shadow of death to believe that we
are held in God's right hand.
We don't need to spend our days
grasping and grubbing for all we can get, when all we can ever desire is God's
free gift of grace. We can follow Christ's foot steps until at last we are part
of that great homecoming at the end of every resurrection story. We too can look
forward to the day when we are embraced in the warm and welcoming arms of our
creator and hear those words of praise: "Well done good and faithful servant,
now enter into the joy of your maker." Praise be to God!
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.