Everyone has a story to tell. However, the disturbing reality is that the way they tell it is often times completely and utterly false. Recently, I participated in an intense training designed to excavate the defining narratives people tell themselves. In the digging up of those tombs turned into shrines, our group discovered that the bones inside the caskets of our relational ghost stories actually exposed the fraudulence of the grand narratives we subscribed to.
The truth is that we have all been hurt. The videos of our traumas replay inside our minds like the parasitic apps on our smartphones, draining our energy and frustrating our attempts at authentic connection with one another. What’s worse is that, over time, our memories grow less and less reliable. Ergo, the grudges or shame we hold to so dearly may in fact be based on the unintentional failing of our minds. Our flawed interpretations of our beloved epics can then mutate into tyrants, enslaving us into the hell of perpetual self-sabotage and preventing the very victory we claim we desire. The simple way of saying this is that we lie to ourselves about ourselves and others. Sometimes, we do that intentionally, and other times we do it without even realizing it. In the realm of intentionality, we lie to get revenge, sympathy, a license to do as we please, a pat on the back, and so many other options that either paint us as the great hero or the poor victim.
Jesus had an extremely low tolerance for false narratives during his three years of ministry. Some of the most violent language Jesus ever uttered was in response to false narratives spun by those who he said made people twice the children of hell they were. On one occasion, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes who criticized his willingness to associate with sinners. According to the religious leaders, these sinners had committed offenses that were unforgivable, disqualifying them from any second chances. So, Jesus told them a parable. We now know this story as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” which is tragic because that title omits the identities of the two other major characters in the story. If we were to look at the story in its entirety, we might christen the parable as “The Loving Father and the Two False Narratives.”
This long celebrated parable unveils God’s identity as a loving father who longs to be reconnected with his children who are trapped in false narratives. In the beginning of this story, we find that there is one father and two sons. The younger son has no interest in having a relationship with his father. He only wants the father’s stuff. Growing tired of waiting for his father to die, he asks his father to give him the early dispensation of his inheritance so that he might spend it on his epicurean dream, which, quite frankly, is every parent’s nightmare. For those of us who have lost touch with a culture that values reverence, this gesture by the younger son is worse than flipping his dad the bird. In the eyes of a Pharisee, this brand of disrespect might even be justly punishable by death. And then, the story turns. The younger son loses all his money, comes to his senses, and is received back home by the loving father in such a lavish way that the older brother resents all of it. The father throws a party for the son who lost his false narrative and found his true identity, but the story ends with the loving appeal to the older son, still trapped inside his own victim narrative, to join the party. Well, won’t you join the party?
PAUL MICHAEL JONES is an artist who currently dabbles in music, photography and creative writing.