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Knowledge & News
Thought provoking topics and series, necessary news and information.
A few weeks back, we completed a series on three different tellings of The Prodigal Son story from the Gospel of Luke. As we neared completion, our own Sharon Tonjes pointed out one of the most conspicuously absent characters in the story, with the brilliant question, "Where's mom?" Could it be that the mother of the prodigal younger and older son, and wife of the lost husband, might indeed be the most lost character of all? Lost to the story all together for lack of mention, even by us?
For a full look at what we covered, and to capture a sense of what Sharon points out, that which we missed, check out the series below. Also take a moment to get to know Sharon (and her husband Steve) by watching her story.
“There was a man who had two sons...” So began the text from each Sunday's sermon in the Prodigal series (Luke 15:11-32).
Situated as it is after two parables of loss and recovery (one out of 99 sheep, one out of ten silver coins) this parable known as the “Prodigal Son” appears, at first glance, to be the third in a series of three similar stories. But this story is unique. Over three Sundays we at Collective have explored three very different interpretations of this parable about a man whose younger son asks for (and receives) his inheritance, leaves home for riotous living, becomes disillusioned and returns home. The father in the story rejoices that his son has returned and throws a humdinger of a party for this son who was lost and has been found. However, this man had TWO sons and the elder brother is not happy about this party. He stayed home, behaved himself, worked hard for his father, and yet never has he been given a party. Nevertheless, the father insists that it is right to celebrate the return of the younger brother.
Okay. We looked first at a traditional sort of interpretation of this parable, and we looked next at a Star Wars version of this parable, and finally, last Sunday, we looked at this parable as the story of a dysfunctional family. This is one of the things I love about Collective: there is room to look at a parable (or text, or belief, or practice) from many different angles. There are paths to finding many different meanings in the same story. How do we do this? In this instance, while we heard from a variety of people, we failed to go far enough to outrun the stereotypical presentation: an older man preached a traditional sermon with a traditional interpretation of the parable, then a younger man preached a not-quite-so-traditional sermon with reference to a major motion picture, and finally, two men dialogued about family and dysfunction. Never once did any of them ask a fundamental question about this dysfunctional family: Where is MOM in all this? How in the world can you even talk about family—a traditional family from the time of Jesus—without a mom involved? Yet she was never mentioned. Even her absence was not remarked upon, by the biblical account OR in Sunday's discussion. We can understand and perhaps forgive the glossing over of women in the Bible, knowing that it emerges from an ancient patriarchal culture, but we cannot excuse the continuation of that sort of outlook in today's world. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.”
What would Mom have said about the two sons and her husband's relationship to them? Did the sons even share the same mom? Scripture doesn't tell us. Were the brothers friendly, or competitive? Did the father favor the younger son? What advice would Mom have given him, had he asked her about whether the younger son should be given his inheritance and allowed to leave home? Would she have argued that, to be fair, the older son should also be given his inheritance? Or perhaps she would have told her husband, “Over my dead body will you let him do this! Put your foot down; he has no business to even ask you for the money.” Or perhaps, “He's too young! Sure, he should go to a good college or business school, but off on his own? Oy vey!”
Oy vey, indeed. How would the presence of a woman change the dynamics of this story, or any story? What happened to Mom in this parable and in this family to make her so invisible that even her absence leaves no noticeable empty spot?
When we read the accounts of the lost being found, we can keep in mind that much more than money and property are at stake: there are those, such as the Mom in this parable, who are lost and invisible. As Amy-Jill Levine writes in her book, Short Stories by Jesus, “Finding the lost, whether they are sheep, coins, or people, takes work. It also requires our efforts, and from those efforts there is the potential for wholeness and joy.” I believe that God wills the reconciliation of ALL of God's children, sons and daughters alike. When we look for the missing moms in the Bible, we work for that wholeness and joy.
By Sharon S Tonjes
We are a misfit faith community that gathers in DeLand on Sundays at 5pm. Come as you are.
We value highly the metaphor of journey. We’re different people from different places and backgrounds, representing an intergenerational community, and we’ve traveled different paths. So, we agree not to make assumptions about the person across from us, next to us, or in conversation with us. We challenge ourselves to be sensitive, knowing this community includes a diverse group of people from life-long followers of Jesus, to people who are just now open to the idea that God might exist. We strive to avoid offense, ask good questions, articulate and explain our responses. We don’t assume fluency in bible, spirituality, or Church language, because we believe the message of Jesus is not for Christianity, but for humanity. So, we do everything in the spirit of love and grace.