At a recent Bible study we read the parables of the Lost Sheep, The Lost Coins and the Lost Son (Luke 15: 1-7, 8-10, 11-32). At one point someone asked how Jesus would tell these parables in today’s world. We joked about smart phones, TVs, and tablets and imagined various scenarios based on modern technologies and behavior. As a pastor I try to make scriptures relevant in today’s world and somehow connect the ancient verses of the Bible to the issues of modern time. So as the lesson moved on, the idea lingered in the back of my mind.
For some reason I began to think about the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who had just been release through a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in Afghanistan. There are a number of controversies surrounding this exchange including the release of five high level Taliban leaders, and that the US is negotiating with terrorists. Perhaps the real issue is that Sgt. Berdahl may have deserted his post and caused the subsequent death of other American soldiers. Some who served in his unit state that he needs to be court marshaled and many veterans are critical of Sgt Bergdahl’s conduct. (Click here to access news article on the Bergdahl controversy.)
Just as the elder son was resentful toward the father in the parable of the “Prodigal Son”, many are angry with the return of the prodigal sergeant. Like the wayward son in Jesus’ story, Bergdahl may have betrayed his duties, abandoned his obligations and set off for his own selfish reasons. He then suffered for his decision, realized he had made a poor choice and wished to return to his homeland. His brothers in arms are now resentful and questioning the Obama’s administration for their action.
The Obama administration simple believes that the return of an American serviceman is the central issue; a lost soldier has been returned. I do feel joy that an US combatant has been released but I wonder if the price was too high. If Sgt Bergdahl did desert his post, then he betrayed a sacred duty to his country and, more importantly, to the men in his unit and all those who serve in harm’s way.
Some may argue that the prodigal son and the prodigal soldier are not related, that it is unfair to make a comparison because we do not know Sgt Bergdahl’s state of mine. Did he desert his post to surrender or simple wandered off and was captured? Is he penitent and has chosen to accept the discipline for his action in exchange for being back in the United States? The prodigal son made a choice to return to his father’s home and accept his punishment. Sgt Bergdahl release was negotiated and he may have had no choice.
The resentment of the older brother, like other soldiers, is understandable. The long honored policies and laws governing prisoner exchanges have been ignored and fundamental principles among politicians, statesmen, and soldier have been discarded. Like the elder son many are justified in their anger towards Bergdahl and the Obama administration. I feel the same conflicting issues myself and am torn between the joy of his freedom and the anger of the soldiers.
There are three characters in the parable and each emphasizes a different dynamic in the relationship God has with us. I believe the behavior of the Father is the key to understanding this story. The Father was overjoyed and wanted to celebrate. He didn’t care why the son had returned. He simple wanted to rejoice that a lost son was home. It is the Father’s behavior that underpins the true meaning of Jesus’ message. For without the Father’s love there is no home, no forgiveness and no hope. The son, not expecting any kindness, was given the hope of redemption. I believe Sgt Bergdahl has also been given that hope.
I also believe that this ancient and archaic parable is relevant to our times. The words of Jesus do have significant meaning in the modern world. The Bible speaks from the distant past toward the present and the future. Rather than just a story addressed to a few Pharisees, Jesus’ words guide us in the modern world; they give us a template to address contemporary issues and a foundation from which we can deal with these problems. For me the parable of the prodigal son gives us clear instructions on how to apply God’s will to this issue.
I try not to be political and do not support or denounce any political ideology or politicians. (In other words I blame them all equally.) However I believe the lesson of the “Lost Son” has been applied to Sgt Bergdahl and the situation he created. I also believe we should continue to turn to the Bible for guidance and resolutions for modern issues. If we adhere to man-made laws, established policies and cultural principles, then we become like the Pharisees and often lose sight of God’s purpose.
A lost son has been returned us. There is joy in his family’s home. Let us celebrate his return for now. The future will play itself out and Sgt Bergdahl, like all of us, will need to answer for his action. Let pray that when we stand in judgment of him, the Obama administration and ourselves, we will fall upon the word of God for guidance.
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”