UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
News from St Andrew’s
Craig’s June letter
I went to a West End theatre recently to see ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’. It was a wonderful experience with some amazing special effects and it absorbed me for an afternoon and an evening. (It’s in two parts so the first part was a matinee and the second part then followed in the evening.) I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it and might go to see it one day, however the title of the play got me thinking since there is actually more than one person who could be the ‘cursed child’ of the title. The title we give something is important because it can influence how we approach it, whether it is a play, a person, a place, a story or a parable.
A parable? Yes, the titles that have been given to the parables of Jesus over time, which appear as headings in most Bibles, can influence how we approach them and what we remember about them. In many cases the historic titles help us to engage with the parable and remember a strong point; ‘The Good Samaritan’ is one example – what else could it be called? (Maybe ‘The foolish traveller who took a dangerous road alone’?) Others may not be so clear.
The parable of ‘The Prodigal Son’ is one that intrigues me. The title can lead us to focus on the younger son who is wasteful and extravagant with his inheritance and ends up in dark place. He recognises where he is and, through turning around and admitting his errors, is brought back to a good place. It becomes about the son and can all too easily be used as a moral lesson handed out to those younger than ourselves as a warning for life.
If we consider where in the Gospels the parable is found then other titles might suggest themselves. The parable is the third of three illustrations given by Jesus that we find in Luke chapter 15. The two that precede it are first about a lost sheep and second about a lost coin. So another title for the parable, which I have heard and may have used myself, could be ‘The Lost Son’.
There is, however, another element that links these three stories – rejoicing. The shepherd calls his friends and neighbours to rejoice that he has found his sheep and the woman also calls her friends and neighbours to rejoice when she has found her coin. At the end of the parable when confronted by the older son the father says ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice …’ So these three stories could be ‘the rejoicing shepherd’, ‘the rejoicing woman’ and ‘the rejoicing father’. I like this final title because it focusses our thoughts on the father, who is representative of God, and how He responds to us when we have lost our way. Perhaps there are other parables which come to mind that might, from time to time, benefit from a different title to help us focus on God’s activity.
I indicated earlier that it is also important what title or names we give to people. In one sense this can be a matter of etiquette when in a formal setting but I think it is something for everyday life. What we call people, either to their faces, behind their backs or in general conversation with another, matters. It reveals what we think of them and about them and the value we give them. When the labels we use are less than flattering or reflect our dissatisfaction with another we are probably not managing to see them as a child of God, just like us, made in His image.
Posted on 1 Jun 2022