There is an interesting word used in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) that has truly captured my attention. The word is "metanoia." It is made up of two greek words, meta and nous. When these words are combined the meaning of metanoia literally means to come to your senses; to come into your right mind; to intelligently understand. The prodigal son parable has also been referred to as the parable of the "lost" son.
The story is about the youngest of two sons making the decision to ask his father for his portion of the inheritance. Once he receives it he packs his belongings and heads off into a distant land where he wasted his substance on riotous living. When a famine became evident in the place where he was living he eventually ran out of money and in order to survive he got a job feeding a farmer's pigs. As his hunger began to over power his desire to be where he was all of a sudden, the scripture says, "he came to himself."
Coming to one's self has got to be one of the most challenging experiences we encounter as humans. It would seem that once we have it in our minds just what we want to do, and that desire usually has to do with what pleases us the most, we simply strike out on our own to accomplish our desires, at least that's how I have encountered my own stubbornness. I was determined to please myself even though I didn't think at the time that that was what I was doing. What's so strange about this stuff is how well I disguised it in religious talk. As long as I convinced myself that it was okay with God well, you know, it was okay to move forward.
As I have examined this parable there are some very striking things that have surfaced for me. Perhaps as I reflect on them they will inspire you to delve even deeper into the amazing truths found in this story. As I thought about this lost son it occurred to me that once he came to himself he began to think about where he came from. I suppose if he had been at home in the pig pen he wouldn't have entertained the thought of leaving. He thought about his father and the abundance of resources he once enjoyed while living there. Then he began to put together a story of his ideas about being unworthy to be his father's son. "Just make me one of your hired servants" he said to himself thinking that will at least get me something to eat.
I imagine he practiced telling this story to his father all the way back to his father's house. The way the story is told he didn't make it back to his father's house before he was greeted on the road by his father. Think about that for a moment. If we think that our poor decisions and down right rebellious decisions have discolored God's opinion of us then we don't know the father very well. According to the story the son's father was evidently watching for him in hopes that he would return home. The father didn't wait for him to arrive home. Instead, he ran to meet him. Can you just imagine what this young man must have smelled like? That didn't seem to bother the father in the least. As a matter of fact it is recorded that he embraced him and kissed him.
The father didn't even listen to his son's cockamamie story about his ideas of not being worthy to be called his son. The way I heard what the father said goes something like this, "Get this young man cleaned up with a new robe and sandals. Put a ring on his finger and Oh yeah, kill the fatted calf we're going to have a barbecue for this my son was dead and is alive again."
To often in my life I have had the tendency to write off those who seem to come across as being undesirable. Their behavior would often cause me to think they are just lost. The best disovery I have made regarding this parable comes from the Mirror Bible when it was noted that you can not be lost unless you belong! The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son never once lost their identity or their value. The celebration has begun and if you listen you just might hear the music and the dancing and the joyful sound of fellowship between the Father and his son. Is that beef brisket I smell?
Past experiences can often bring us a sense of joy and satisfaction. It is usually these joyful experiences we have encountered that we most often share with our friends at parties and gatherings and such. Suffice it to say that what may start out as a joyful experience can all of a sudden take a detour into places one was not expecting. That said, the experience in this reflection I'm choosing to share today started out well but eventually went a lot further south than I had anticipated. This event occurred sometime in the mid 1980's. I was serving as a minister of music and youth in a church in Georgia. It was around Easter. I used to sing a particular song entitled "He's Alive" complete with "cassette tape" accompaniment. In those days accompaniment tape trax assisted the soloist in church with their very own orchestra. I suppose it gave the musician and the congregation a certain flair although a number of people called it "canned music."
So here I was during the evening worship service preparing to sing this song. I had acquired a small amount of theatrical exposure due to a couple of small parts I played while in seminary and decided that I would attempt to transform myself into the character of Peter the disciple of Jesus right there in front of the onlooking congregation.
The song I was about to sing was a testimony told by Peter. With so much confusion as Jesus' disciples watched his crucifixion and then witnessed his burial, the events that had transpired from Peter's point of view must have been very despairing particularly when you figure in that he had denied that he even knew Jesus.
As I am attempting to take what little make-up I have to bring about a slight change in my appearance as part of my song's presentation complete with robe and sandals I am offering some information about Peter. Suddenly I said, "Peter was such a klutz." At the time I sensed a slight tinge within me but I didn't really pay that much attention to it until much later. I don't remember anything else I said that evening. I went on and sang the song and that was that. I thought.
About seven years later I had moved to Mississippi where I was invited to participate in an Easter cantata presented by a local Baptist Church. When I was introduced to the part I would be singing I realized that the part belonged to Peter. All of a sudden the events of that fateful night that had occurred seven years earlier came rushing back into my awareness. With tears it was impressed on me that Peter was not dead and gone but very much alive and the statement I had made about him was not true. I recall falling down on my knees asking Jesus to forgive me for being the "klutz" in making such an awful statement about Peter and to that congregation.
I will never forget that particular Sunday morning when we gathered to present this cantata to that congregation in Mississippi. As I sat with the choir all of a sudden I heard these words spoken to me in my spirit, "Your prayer has been heard and you have been forgiven and to show the gracious favor of that forgiveness you have been honored to sing Peter's part. With tears freely flowing down my face I was surprised that the words I heard in my spirit came to me with absolutely no condemnation. Since this experience I have heard others say negative things about Peter. I confess that I cringe but perhaps it would be best if we make the choice not to say anything negative about anyone whether they are present with us here or in that great cloud of witnesses.
How does one explain to someone what they hear within their thoughts? Sometimes while I am meditating on various things an idea will surface in my thinking and I often wonder if I was the originator of the thought or perhaps the thought originated from a higher or greater source. I believe God exists and right now as I think about it I'm of the opinion that God is invisible. This invisible God, I believe, is made visible through the incarnation of the Word. In other words, Jesus Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God.
Sometimes I think we as humans are so wrapped up in what we see that we have a tendency to overlook that which we fail to see. I wonder if that idea can be applied to what we hear or fail to hear as well. At any rate this reflection has to do with how I heard a particular message from scripture. Philippians 4:19 says, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Not very long ago I was meditating on the idea that helping people has really become such a joy for me. It seemed the more I gave the more I was given to give. As this awareness became more pronounced these giving opportunities seemed to simply flow through my thoughts and meditations.
One day I was meditating on the amazement of this newfound expression of joy through giving. All of a sudden Philippians 4:19 came rushing into my thoughts. The only difference in how I had heard the passage before and how I was beginning to hear it had to do with hearing it in the first person. In other words, it was as though Jesus was speaking this passage to me and this is how I heard it, "I will supply all your needs according to my riches in glory." No longer do I have to take the apostle Paul's word for it for now I have heard it from the Source.