“It’s Not Fair – Or is It?”
March 31, 2019 – Lent 4 – Year C
Gloria Gonzalez tells about the best party she ever went to. “You grow up fast in Spanish Harlem, especially if your parents are the superintendents of the building. You see a lot…
There are also the good times, the open-house parties every Friday night after cashing the paycheck. One long awaited celebration was the night that Jose was due home after 3 years as a United States Marine.
Every family had contributed a home cooked dish and a dollar for the beer and soda. Neighbours began decorating the apartment with crepe paper and balloons the night before, and someone was dispatched to the local funeral parlour to borrow folding chairs.
The day of the party, relatives arrived from the Bronx and from as far away as San Juan. Papo, Jose’s cousin, and I were posted on the stoop as lookouts.
A taxi arrived and deposited its passenger. Papo and I paid scant attention to the tall brunette in the off-the-shoulder blouse and billowing skirt.
It wasn’t till she screamed out names and swept us off the ground in a crushing hug that we realized the perfumed woman was Jose! …
With the music of Tito Puente in the background, Jose threw open the door and announced, “I am home.”
The needle was pulled on Tito Puene.
“Me, Jose, the person has not changed. Only the outside. You are my family and I love every one of you. If you want me to go I will go and not be angry. But if you find it in your heart to love Josefina, I would love to stay.”
No one spoke. Everyone stared. Those who didn’t speak English waited for the whispered translation. Even the outside city noises seemed to halt abruptly. I stood in the open doorway, still holding the suitcase, not daring to enter.
After what seemed hours – but could only have been moments – his mother stumbled forward and said to her, “
“Are your hungry?”
I was 11. It was the best party I ever went to.
In the 1980’s a book was published entitled “The Greatest Storyteller Ever”, referring to Jesus. Much of Jesus ministry took the form of stories. Today’s tale is probably the best known one. In fact it is so well know that many people forget it is a story and believe it was a true incident. And in many respects, it is a re-telling of accounts that have happened in your lives and in mine. For instance: There is an account of a lunch that Nelson Mandela had with Percy Yutar who had been the chief prosecutor in the mid 1960’s trial that had sentenced Mandela to prison. That the President would entertain such a luncheon guest was in itself remarkable. But during their time together the former prosecutor apologized for having been part of a legal process he now regarded as having been unjust. Mandela’s response was to tell him to leave all that in the past, to let it go. His guest said that he was amazed by this act of generosity and it showed Mandela as a man of deep humility and faith.
Or there is this account: “He tells me he is leaving on Monday. Today is Wednesday. Not enough time to prepare my heart, to even let this sink in. The reality that my son, who is barely 16, is leaving home for parts unknown. We no, not totally unknown. I know the kid is heading off with a street-corner drug dealer. I know the town they say they are going to is a place where youth go – a place where there are flop-houses, drug parties, and lost children. I picture him there, getting high, crashing on someone’s couch, scrounging for bread in the morning.
We hold a family dinner, a farewell of sorts. We gather in the kitchen – his sister, his father, me and a family friend. His 7 year old sister makes a farewell card. There is a picture of her, knelling with her head in her hands, black pencil tears streaming from her eyes. I feel a rush of anger,. We baste the turkey, make mashed potatoes – his favorite – and set out the best china. He shows up stoned. We try to concentrate on saying what needs to be said in this present moment. There may not be another time, so what is to be said must be said now. We love you. We will miss you. The door will always be open. We will be waiting for you to come home. We will be praying, always praying.
I try to imagine what the next few months will be like. I cannot say goodbye forever, since I know my heart will not let me do that . Whatever I tell myself about getting on with life, I know I will be waiting. Holding my breath every time the phone rings. Listening for his steps upon the porch.” As told by a United Church mother.
The story of the prodigal has been described as the perfect story. Some scholars call it the parable of the waiting father. Perhaps as you heard it again you realized that you could identify with all 3 characters. Within each of us are the younger son. We are the rebel, sometimes lost and sometimes careless, and yes, also humble. We also are the older son. We are hard working, self righteous, and easily hurt. And we are the parent. We try to do the best by all our children. We are equally welcoming of all whom we love. Our hearts are full of joy.
The great party thrown to celebrate the younger son’s return would have included the entire village in a feast of reconciliation. Not everyone was willing to be reconciled, though the parable speaks to the heart of human relationships. The reconciliation described in the story is fragile – newly rebuilt relationships are fragile. Does the younger son really accept, long term, the reconciliation the father offers? Or is it rather fickle? Does the heart of the older son melt the rigidity of hurt and anger in the long-term? Does he too reconcile with the gathered community? What does your re-telling of the parable sound like?
One of my favourite movies is “Fiddler on the Roof”. In it Tevya says to his wife, Golda, “Do you love me?” She is too busy for such frivolities. All the housework to do and he’s getting mushy. “Go lie down” she says. “You’ll feel better after awhile.”
But he persists. “The fist time I met you was on our wedding day”. Tevya tells Golda how frightened he was, but his own mother and father had said to him that over the years they would grow to love each other. “So now I ask you. Do you love me?”
Golda begins to think out loud. “For 25 years I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. If that isn’t love, what is?
Tevya brightens. “Then you love me?”
“I suppose I do” she acknowledges.
Together they sing “It doesn’t change a thing. But after 25 years, it’s nice to know.
Fiddler on the Roof is about Tevya and Golda, who are the older brothers in the prodigal parable, and about their daughters who are all “younger sons” in one way or another. All of them move outside the norms and conventions, and during a period of history when everything was in flux, keep pushing at the edges of the tradition Tevya and Golda value so deeply, a tradition that “Tells us who we are and what God expects us to do.”
But Tevya and Golda are also God in the parable. Because in the end, against their own instincts, against the conventions of the community and the power of the tradition, they finally act on their love.
Let us keep telling our stories of love that knows no limits. Amen.