By Fr. Bill Wigmore
Well once again, welcome to the service – & Happy Father’s Day to all the dads here – how’re we doing tonight?
Sometime back, I came a cross one of those top ten lists
that David Letterman reads on The Late Show.
- This one was called:
- “The Top-Ten Things You’ll Never Hear a Dad Say“
And I figured, since this is Father’s Day,
it might be a good night to read it. So here we go:
Ten things you never heard come out of your father’s mouth:
Number 10 “Well, how ’bout that! … I’m lost! … Looks like we’ll
have to stop and ask for directions.”
Number 9 “You know Pumpkin, now that you’re thirteen, you’ll be
ready for un-chaperoned car dates. Won’t that be fun?
Number 8 “I noticed that all your friends seem to have a certain
“up yours” attitude” …… I really like that!”
Number 7 “Here’s a credit card and the keys to my new car –
… GO CRAZY!”
Number 6 “What do you mean you wanna play football?
Figure skating’s not good enough for you, son?”
Number 5 “Your Mother and I are going away for the weekend …
you might want to consider throwing a party.”
Number 4 “Well, I don’t know what’s wrong with your car.
Probably one of those doo-hickey thingies – you
know — that makes it run or something. Just have it towed to a
mechanic and pay whatever he asks.”
Number 3 “Now Listen! No son of mine is going to live under this
roof withoutan earring – so quit your belly-aching, and let’s go to themall!”
Number 2 “Whaddya wanna go and get a job for?
I make plenty of money for you to spend!”
And the Number 1 thing you never heard your father say:
“Would you mind turning that music up a bit!”
Father’s Day can bring up memories & feelings for all of us –
And for those of us who grew up in homes touched by alcoholism or drug addiction, the memories aren’t always happy.
I know a priest who served for many years as the chaplain in a very large state prison.
And he tells the story of how, during his very first year there:
when Mother’s Day arrived in early May,
he was overwhelmed with requests from the prisoners for
Mother’s Day cards for the men to send home.
He gave out boxes and boxes of ‘em – but he never seemed
to have enough to meet all the demand.
And so the priest said to himself – next time, he wasn’t going to be
caught short –
and so the very next month, when Father’s Day rolled around,
he’d stocked up with plenty of cards –
but he was shocked at what happened next –
almost none of the men asked for them.
This time he was left with boxes and boxes of unused cards.
When he asked one of the other chaplains why nobody wanted the cards the guy said:
“Welcome to prison! Most of these men never knew their fathers
and a lot of the ones who do would just as soon forget ‘em.”
- Father’s Day can bring up memories & feelings that many of us would just as soon forget.
I’ve spoken about the problems I had with my own father.
- He was a bad alcoholic who had the added problem of often getting violent when he got drunk.
- I was on the receiving end of a lot of that when I was growing up.
My experience of what a father is – wasn’t good.
- A father wasn’t safe – a father wasn’t to be trusted –
- And like the kid in tonight’s gospel, I couldn’t wait to get away from home – and I planned to never go back.
Now tonight’s gospel story is one that we read here at the service two or three times each year. We read itso often because if there’s one story in all of scripture that I wish we addicts could each hear, and really take in and let it change us, – then this is the one.
And maybe it’s especially important for those of us who’ve had our “God-images” damaged by our pasts;
because this Father that Jesus describes is so unlike any we knew growing up.
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Now Jesus tells this story because he’s being asked by the
righteous, church-going people in his town:
Why’s he hanging out with the ones they consider
all the lowlife scum in their community?
- Why’s he paling around with prostitutes and talking it up with tax traitors –
- Why’s he healing lepers and helping out all the so-called losers –
- What’s the deal, Jesus? You’re supposed to be a holy man – a prophet – don’t you know who these people are?
And so it’s in this context that Jesus tells them this story.
It’s Jesus explaining to the church people of his day what he’s doing –
because what he was doing,
wasn’t what any of them were doing.
But, according to Jesus, what he’s doing is exactly what the God of his understanding is always doing
- He’s loving his kids —- “unconditionally.”
- He’s loving ‘em in ways that absolutely blow away all their old ideas about who God is and how God works in our lives.
- The Big Book says, “Many of us tried to hold on to our old ideas and the results were nil until we let ‘em go absolutely.”
- In his story tonight, Jesus is saying: we’ve got some old ideas about God,
- and he wants to open our eyes and help us see a very different image of the God he knew so well.
- Jesus called his God, his Abba – and that translates as his Papa or his Daddy.
- The holy people were all shocked –
- and if I’ve learned anything from staying sober all my years it’s this:
- If the God of Jesus doesn’t come to me as a total shock – then I haven’t heard what Jesus really said – and I’m still stuck in some of my OLD IDEAS.
When you came into the service tonight, I hope everyone received a little card.
- That card‘s part of a painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” done almost four hundred years ago by Rembrandt, the artist.
- (NOTE: To see the picture, go to:
- or Google “Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son.”)
- It’s considered one of his greatest works and it’s the one we keep here under the altar.
- The painting is the artist’s understanding of this gospel scene where the prodigal son finally comes to his senses and returns to his father.
Now I don’t know if you can see it on the small card – probably not – but there are two things about the father that the artist painted into the scene that most people can very easily miss.
The first has to do with the way he’s painted the father’s eyes –
because according to this artist, the father is blind.
In Rembrandt’s imagination – the father doesn’t even have eyes to
see any or all of the terrible things that his son has done to him.
- All this father does is: Love!
- He loves his son when he spits in his face by asking for his inheritance.
(See, you don’t get your inheritance until your father’s dead –
“Drop dead!” is what his son was saying.
“Drop dead, Dad, so I can get what’s then legally coming to me!)
- But this father is blind to that –
He’s blind to the insult – He simply keeps on loving – and instead of giving him the back of his hand – he gives the boy exactly what he asks for.
- And, just like so many of us, the kid takes the money and goes right out and blows it –
- He probably took it to a crack house – cause that money was gone in a hurry!
(So the kid winds up living with the pigs ….. and we all have our pig stories!)
But, being a little con artist that he is,
this kid is still trying to manipulate his old man.
“I’ve got a plan!” he says, “I’ll tell my father that I don’t deserve to be called his son –
I’ll play on his mercy – I’ll ask him to take me in and treat me like one of his servants.
At least I’ll get myself: three hots and a cot.” (Been there & done that!)
- But the old man seems blind to that too.
- (Maybe Love really is blind!)
All this loving father can do is throw his arms around his son –
And instead of treating him like a servant (which was his plan)
he treats him like royalty (which is God’s plan!)
- He puts rings on his fingers and a robe on his back,
- He showers him with kisses and presses him close to his heart.
And there’s something else about this painting
that’s puzzled people for centuries.
It’s the way the artist depicts the father’s two hands.
Hands that are holding on to this wayward son.
For some reason Rembrandt’s painted each of the father’s hands very differently –
One hand is very clearly the hand of a man –
And the other is just as clearly, the hand of a woman.
Rembrandt’s saying something very powerful here about the God of his understanding – and about how it isthat God loves us.
He seems to be saying that God loves us both as a father loves and as a mother loves too.
This father is strong – and that’s the male hand that’s supporting his son –
- It’s holding him up so he doesn’t fall again –
- It’s the hand that’s encouraging him and blessing him.
- He’s passing on his energy to the next generation so this son of his will be strong enough some dayto pass it on to his son too.
- If we missed receiving these things from our fathers – the good news is: it’s never too late to get them. God makes that possible. And maybe the bigger ‘the Father hole’ we have inside our souls – the more open we’ll be to letting God come and fill it, and the more grateful we’ll be to receive it.
But with the other hand, while all of this is going on,
then with his other hand, with his female side –
this father’s also gently hugging his son’s neck –
He’s embracing him, much as a mother would hug her
- This father isn’t afraid to show love.
- He’s not afraid to make himself vulnerable –
- He isn’t afraid to cry or to open his heart.
- We need that from our fathers – and we need it from our God too!
The scriptures tell us that we’re each wonderfully made.
They say we’re made in the very image and likeness of God –
And because we reflect him and who he is,
then God must be male and God must be female too –
- So we have a God who is both strong and tender
- A God who’s full of power and might
- but one who’s also full of love and compassion.
If our God is only one and not the other,
then we’re still holding on to our old ideas
and we’re missing out on the Real Thing.
I want to close now with another list I came across not too long ago.
It’s a collection of scripture passages that were put together to make up an imaginary Father’s Day cardfrom our God.
Someone gathered up one liners from the Old and the
New Testament and strung ‘em all together.
And if you’ll listen to them carefully,
- I think you’ll hear the two sides of God that Rembrandt saw.
- Maybe it’s a unisex card that priest in prison could use on Mother’s Day and on Father’s Day too.
It reads like this:
MY CHILD . . .
You may not know me, but I know everything about you. Psalm 139:1
I know when you sit down and when you rise up. Psalm 139:2
I am familiar with all your ways. Psalm 139:3
Even the very hairs on your head I’ve numbered. Matthew 10:29-31
For you were made in my own image. Genesis 1:27
In me you live and move and have your being. Acts 17:28
You are my child. Acts 17:28
I knew you even before you were conceived. Jeremiah 1:4-5
I chose you when I planned creation. Ephesians 1:11-12
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in my book. Psalm 139:15-16
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live. Acts 17:26
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you. Psalm 34:18
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart. Isaiah 40:11
One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Revelation 21:3-4
And I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth. Revelation 21:3-4
I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son Jesus. John 17:23
Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen. Luke 15:7
I have always been Father, and will always be Father. Ephesians 3:14-15
My question is…Will you be my child? John 1:12-13
I am waiting for you. Luke 15:11-32
Come home. Luke 15: 7
With Love Everlasting –
Copyright 2009, Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.