To help me embrace this text from today’s lectionary, I have turned to both Western and Eastern psychology. I find applicable insights from both of them.
Buddhist psychology, which is 2500 years old, speaks of attachment as a negative. There are three Buddhist poisons: attachment, aversion, and ignorance. Attachment is synonymous with desire, greed, craving, and envy. Poison number two, aversion, is synonymous with hatred and anger. Poison number three, ignorance, is synonymous with distraction, self-deception, and delusion.
In Western psychology, there is a positive attachment theory that focuses on the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and how we are influenced by our caregivers during infancy. Attachment to a loving and reliable caregiver is not only a good thing but is also crucial for healthy social and emotional development. The work of 20th century research psychologist John Bowlby and others have articulated our inner desire and need for emotional connectedness and our yearning for meaningful, loving and intimate relationships.
Genesis asserts that God created us out of God’s loneliness and God’s desire for intimacy and connectedness. In today’s story, we see a parent who longs for his son to return and pleads with another son to join the party. It is the desire not only for loving connection but also for reconciliation. This love and desire is the basic foundation for grace.
This story is relevant to those of us who desire to return home to be embraced by those who love us. It may be encouraging to those of us who desire reconciliation with a sibling. However, the story was not told because of individual difficulties. It was told in response to a larger political and religious situation.
The Pharisees were both a religious and a political group. They were brutally critical of Jesus’ loving and welcoming attitude toward those who were different than they. Jesus was keeping company and eating with sinners, alleged sinners and Gentiles. How dare he identify himself as a Hebrew and Rabbi? Clearly not everyone was welcome to the banquet table of the Pharisees.
In response to their attitude, Jesus tells three stories in quick succession. One is about a shepherd searching for a lost sheep. Another is about a widow searching for a lost coin, and then there is this one about a father who desires reconciliation with his children.
All of these stories are about God’s desire for reconciliation and God’s longing for loving attachment. Not only does God desire that for God-Self but God desires that for all brothers and sisters, one to another.
These are also stories about God’s desire for inclusivity, in direct opposition to the Pharisees desire for exclusivity. This parable is a direct confrontation of the Pharisees political and religious bigotry, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness.
I find it quite easy to see that the two boys in this text, at one time or another participated in all three of the poisons. Clearly, these primal motives from negative attachment, aversion, and ignorance continue to be at the root of all current and past misery. Indeed, they are at work not only in the minds of individuals but also in the ideologies that motivate our larger social, national, political, and religious systems.
We have the responsibility to look for small-mindedness and prejudice in ourselves. And we also have the responsibility to be a prophetic voice to our culture.
As I think of the poison of negative attachment, what also comes to mind are three toxic theologies that are absolutely in the driver’s seat of this hour’s religious and political discourse. They contain all the negative energy found in the harmful and destructive attributes as described in Buddhist negative attachment theory. These toxic theologies are: 1) Theonomy, 2) Christian Reconstructionism, and 3) Dominion Theology. Let’s look at each of them.[i]
Theonomists reject the traditional Reformed belief in the separation of church and state and claim that the civil laws of the Mosaic Law are applicable to the current day.
Under such a system, the list of civil crimes which could carry a death sentence include homosexuality, adultery, incest, lying about one’s virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, and bearing false witness in a capital case.
The goals of theonomy are 1) the universal development of Biblical, theocratic republics and governments, 2) the exclusion of non-Christians from voting and citizenship, and 3) the strict application of Biblical law by the state.
According to theonomist theory, the laws of God are the standard by which Christians should vote and officials and judges should rule. Rulers and judges should enforce only those laws for which God revealed social sanctions. This has led to the Christian Anarchist movement and to the Christian Reconstructionist movement.
Christian Reconstructionism is the idea that, in the Bible, God provides the basis of both personal and social ethics. In that context, the term is always used in antithesis to autonomy.
Christian Reconstructionist ethics asserts that the Bible has been given as the abiding standard for all human government, the individual, the family, the church, and all civil law.
Biblical Law must be incorporated into a Christian theory of Biblical ethics. To put it simply, this represents a commitment to the necessity, sufficiency, and unity of Scripture. And I would add this is at the core of the current un-reconciled dispute among Mennonite churches today.
This theology requires Christians to govern over non-Christians. It states that although Satan has been in control of the world since the fall, God is looking for people who will help God take back dominion and take control of all the kingdoms of this world.
American Christian evangelical efforts to penetrate and transform public life bear the distinguishing mark of dominionists. Their commitment is to define and build a society that is exclusively Christian, and dependent specifically on the work of conservative Christians, rather than based on a broader national consensus.
- Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism. They believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenmentroots of American democracy.
- Dominionists promote religious supremacy. They generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even versions of Christianity that differ from theirs.
- Dominionists endorse theocratic visions. They believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be viewed as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.
- Dominionists call on Christians to participate in government, law, the media and so forth…so that Christians will control each of these aspects of society.
Dominionists believe Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ. This includes the conquest of people, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.”
These theologies of negative attachment contain all the attributes held by the older brother and the Pharisees that Jesus was preaching to. The Pharisees and the keepers of these three toxic theologies are rigid about who’s in and who’s out.
I have read that preachers Pat Roberts and Jerry Falwell belong to this theological camp. Another nationally known preacher of these theologies is right next door to us, living in Carrollton, Texas. His name is Pastor Rafael Cruz, and he is father and political advisor to Ted Cruz.
Keeping in mind our task of offering a prophetic voice in response to toxic theologies and in politics, let’s now ask what a theology of positive attachment might look like.
In another parable, that of the Great Banquet, the Master of the house told his servant to forget the guest list and go into the back streets and alleyways of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, and the blind.
The servant had already brought in the down-and-out, and still there was room in the banquet hall. So the Master sent his servant on a broader search: “Go out to the roads and country lanes (I might add borders here) and call them in, so that my house will be full.”
And as Jesus tells it, the Master is hosting a lavish banquet, and we’re invited—not because of our own merit, but because he loves us. And there’s more. He’s invited us to help throw the party—neither as servants nor as guests, but as family.[ii]
This positively attaching love cannot be measured, tracked, or managed. Wherever you stand on various theories of theology, in the end, God loves you fiercely, vulnerably, courageously…and unendingly. Whether you have wasted opportunity after opportunity or have been quietly working away faithfully and wondering when you will be noticed, God loves you. Whether you have welcomed others who are down and out or have judged others for not measuring up, God loves you. Whether you joyfully or begrudgingly take your turn to clean the church, God loves you. Whether you think this parable is fitting or unjust and unfair, God loves you. Whether you are in church reluctantly or with joy, God loves you. Whether you have had a lifelong relationship with God, have just come to know God, or aren’t even sure God exists; God loves you…truly, madly, and deeply.[iii]
Dear God, for this and more we are grateful. Amen
[i] definitions from Wikipedia
[ii] Arends, Carolyn. The Prodigal’s Coming-Home Gala was for Both Sons, Text Week, 13 February 2012
[iii] Lose, David. The Prodigal God, In the Meantime, 28 February 2016