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4 Lent C 2010

March 14, 2010
The Rev. Susan J. Latimer

The pain of being disowned….

FiddlerFiddler on the Roof - one of the greatest Broadway shows of all time - tells the story of a Jewish community under persecution in Eastern Europe.
It is also the story of a traditional Jewish father who struggles with the boundaries of his tradition.

After some amount of struggle and soul-searching, and several memorable songs, Tevye allows his oldest daughter to choose her own husband:
Model the Tailor,
instead of going into the marriage that he had arranged for her.
He also gives his blessing to his daughter Hodel, who falls in love with a young student who is arrested and sent to Siberia. Hodel’s leave-taking is painful, but she leaves with the full blessing of her father and mother.

But when his daughter Chava falls in love with a man who is a Christian, Tevye will not budge.
He tells her that this love is impossible
she cannot marry outside of the Jewish faith.
So when Chava runs away to marry the man she loves, Tevye disowns her. He banishes her from the family forever.
Chava comes to him, pleads with him as tears stream down her face,
begging him to just say goodbye,
but he will not even acknowledge her presence.
“Chava” he says to his wife – “Chava is dead to us. We’ll forget her.”

The bitter, sharp pain of being disowned by a parent is one that is still familiar to too many people.

Usually someone is disowned because she or he doesn’t behave in the way that the parent wishes.
In days past, like Tevye, some parents disowned a child for marrying the “wrong” person.
The “Wrong person”, of course, was defined by the parents as someone different from the parents:
Jewish marrying Christian, Catholic marrying a Protestant,
a Caucasian marrying an African-American,
an Italian marrying a German,
In my own family there is a story, several generations back, of a women being disowned from a wealthy family for disobeying her father by marrying someone of a modest background.

Some have been disowned by their parents for leaving the Catholic Church, or the Jewish faith. I know a good number of folks who attend the Episcopal Church but don’t officially leave the Catholic Church – they wait to go through confirmation or reception until their Catholic grandmother or mother dies.

Others, particularly men, have been disowned for choosing their own profession instead of following in the family business, or doing what their father wanted them to do.

In our own day, many folks are disowned by a parent or other close family member when they “come out” to them.

The pain of being disowned is sharp and bitter.
It feels like a severing of a primal connection - like a plant being cut off from some of its roots.


The younger brother in the parable of the prodigal son did everything he could that could get him disowned.
He insulted his father by asking for his share of the inheritance early.
He insulted his father and his whole family by selling the family land – which just wasn’t done – and by leaving for a far country.
He spent his money foolishly and indulged himself in every way.
Then he broke with his Jewish faith by working with pigs – considered to be “unclean” animals.
Any one of these things would have caused him to be disowned by his father.
The combination of them was toxic.

When the son “came to himself” and realized what he had done to himself and his father, he knew that he was beyond forgiveness.
He knew that he could never again be a part of his family.
If Tevye, or any good Jewish man had been his father, the son would have been right. He knew that he had severed himself from all that he loved.
He knew that reconciliation was impossible.

So imagine the listener’s surprise when Jesus goes on to tell the rest of the parable….

The Father has been waiting for the son to return, for he sees him while he is still a long way off, and he runs to meet him. Before the son can mumble out his rehearsed confession, the Father has swept him up in a joyful embrace.
Instead of slinking away to work with the hired hands, the son returns to the heart of the family and they celebrate with the finest feast you could imagine.

We know this parable by the title of the Prodigal Son. But it should be called, the parable of the Generous and Loving Father.

Jesus told this parable so that we could be shocked by God’s love.

God never disowns us. No matter what stupid or careless or horrible things we have done in our life, God never disowns us.
God always gives us another chance.

When you listened to this parable today, which character did you identify with? The younger son? The Father? The Older brother? Many of us identify with the elder brother, particularly if things are going well for us and we are hardworking and responsible. We may agree with his perspective that this party is not in good taste, and “Just not fair!”.
Others of us find great comfort in the story of the younger brother, particularly if we have recently done something that made us aware of our need for God’s forgiveness.

From the Father’s perspective, from God’s perspective, there are no losers in this parable. It is not an “either/or” - it is a “both – and”. A “win-win”. Both sons are loved and cherished equally.
All they have to do is accept this love.
We do not get the end of the story – but we can hope and pray that the older son is able to let go of his grudge and celebrate his lost brother’s return with his Father.

Jesus tells this parable so we can know that God’s love and forgiveness are beyond all human understanding.

We are held in the heart of God.

Extravagant celebration is a part of God’s economy.

And God will never disown us, no matter what we do.
No matter how long we turn away,
God waits for us with infinite patience, and open arms.

Eternal God, the light of the minds that know you,
The joy of the hearts that love you,
The strength of the wills that serve you;
Grant us so to serve you that we may truly love you,
So to love you that we may freely serve you,
To the glory of your holy name.

(5th Century Gelasian Sacramentary)

Quoted in The Road of Life – Reflections on Searching and Longing
By David Adam