We live by transactions. Buying goods or selling services, we live by transactions. It is the nature of a consumer economy. Too often the economic structures influence our understanding of the way the world works – and to our detriment.
I would love to give a prolonged review of Peter Rollins‘ new book, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales. Yet since many only read enough to get the “jest” of a post, I will illustrate the value of the book as it struck me.
Growing up we learn when we wrong another person we should apologize. “Now say you’re sorry.” We are told. We respond timidly, “I’m sorry.” We may hear, “That’s OK.” And, rightly when we have wronged another we should apologize. It is right. But just who is the apology for? Is it possible our transaction based, consumer economy influences our understanding of forgiveness?
Rollins offers adaptations of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lost Son). He titles one, “The Prodigal Father,” and the other, “The Unrepentant Son.” It was this latter that caught my attention since finishing this intriguing little book. (You could read it in one setting but it is suggested to avoid such a temptation and think reflectively on each parable and the accompanying “commentary.”)
Consider the Father in the parable. Jesus makes clear the Father saw the “son while he was still a long way off and ran to him.” Such an action does not make sense. The boy owed an apology. Before getting the royal treatment he should have given account of his squandered wealth. “Now say you’re sorry.” The Father forgave long before the son considered feeding himself on the scraps intended for the pigs. He forgave long before any expression of repentance. He forgave before the son fell before his Father confessing his sin against heaven and against his Dad. In fact, it could be argued from the telling of the parable the son determined what would be accepted in order to have the best chance at a room in the bunkhouse.
The reflective monologue of the son could easily be said to have been a rehearsed speech so to earn a spot in the bunkhouse with the servants. The story gives the sense the Father was going to kill the calf, get the robe and ring before he heard a word the son uttered. Rollins offers a turn on the parable that the son was sorrowful after the party. After he had experienced the forgiveness of his father he regretted his course of action.
Rollins suggests, and I am thinking hard on this one, it is forgiveness that brought repentance. In our transactional take, we grant forgiveness when repentance is demonstrated; when we hear, “I’m sorry.” In other words, it was the experience of forgiveness which created the impetus for repentance. Certainly we quote Scripture, “It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.” But in our human relationships it is often repentance that leads to our kindness.
Today we may need some “orthodox heretics” that would live out the way of Jesus in the world, forgiving 70 times 7, showing kindness before repentance, offering love before contrition. In so doing we may well represent the way of God in the world that draws people into the web of God’s love and works in people a Jesus kind of transformation.
Get the book.
*The image found here was found online at – www.stfrancis.edu/va/failure.htm by Andrei Rabodzeenko Prodigal Son 2006.