“I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family.”
It’s one of my favourite lines from one of my favourite plays, spoken by Jeffrey in ‘The Lion in Winter’ by James Goldman. It is the story of Henry II in the last years of his life, and the plotting and scheming around the succession, as his three (legitimate) remaining sons and his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, jostle for position.
It came into my mind as I was thinking of writing this piece on the Prodigal Son. Yes, there are some immediate similarities. Squabbling sons, an elderly father, quarrels over inheritance. But that’s not the reason it comes to mind.
It’s because I’ve been thinking lately that second guessing and judging others’ motives often causes paralysis. Maybe it’s because we live in a world of endless chatter and analysis that we feel that it’s somehow necessary to fully explore every conceivable angle, so as to be thought of as worthy of attention.
Then, again, maybe it’s just to stop us doing anything. What am I on about?
‘The Lion in Winter’ is full of second, third and fourth guessing. We never know when people are being genuine or whether they are trying to fool everyone else. That’s because, for most of the play, they are doing both. There is genuine pain. love, and hurt, as well as the hunger for power and influence.
Every so often, the truth breaks in, but the judging of each other’s motives is too strong a temptation for any of them to ever let the longing to be loved triumph.
There are few richer parables than the Parable of the Lost/Prodigal Son or Prodigal Father, as some would have it. Every time you read it or share on it, something else jumps out at you that is so blindingly obvious that you feel foolish for never having noticed it before. That’s the power of God’s Word.
If you would, focus on two things. Firstly, when the younger son ‘comes to his senses’ and rehearses his sales pitch, he continues to refer to ‘my father’. Under Jewish custom, he had divorced himself from the family and, by asking for his inheritance, would have considered his father as being dead, as his family would him. Yet, he keeps saying to himself, ‘my father.’ While there is some admittance of his faults, his motive for going back is sheer survival. Yet, somehow, he still acknowledges his father, and his power to save him.
While still a long way off, his father sees him and runs towards him. The man has been clearly looking for him. When he gets to him he doesn’t wait for the full speech or the excuses. His son’s coming back is all he cares about. He doesn’t even ask why.
In other words, in this story, the father and the son stay connected, and are the only ones who really know each other.
The father knows and acts by love; the son by frailty and humanity. But the son acts, his musings don’t lead to the paralysis of analysis, because deep down he knows the father’s heart. Just like those so-called sinners and tax collectors responded to Jesus, because deep down they knew their need and their Father’s heart, who was being revealed to them by his Son, Jesus Christ.
People often stay away from the Church, or the regular practice of their faith, or even God himself, because they have been hurt, made a choice, or just slipped away. When they think of coming back, they start to second guess themselves, the Church, the priest, the people. They run various scenarios round in their minds until they convince themselves that they couldn’t go back, or they wouldn’t be welcome. Or they feel that in their need, it would be dishonest to go back, given they have lived all those years without the Church.
Please stop second guessing. Just come back. God doesn’t care why. Apart from God himself, no one’s motives are simple and straightforward: they are always mixed. God doesn’t care, he only wants you back under any circumstances.
And so do we. So, just come back.