Saturday, November 15, 2014

the prodigal neighbor

I just finished reading Timothy Keller's The Prodigal God -- a recommendation from Alexis over at A Mama's Logbook.

You might already guess from the title that Keller builds the book around one of Jesus' most familiar parables -- the prodigal son.  But, unlike most treatments that center on the relationship of the younger (prodigal) son and his father, Keller builds his lesson around the relationship between the elder brother and the father.

We all know the story.  A young man decides he no longer wishes to live in his father's household, and demands (and receives) his share of inheritance while his father still lives.  The younger son spends his money on a lavish lifestyle and ends up in dire poverty.

Because he no longer has a right to live in his father's household, he returns and asks his father to let him live as a servant on the estate.  The father will have none of that.  Rejoicing in his son's return, he dresses his younger son in his own robes and throws an extravagant welcome home party.

The elder brother is miffed.  He refuses to enter the feast with these simpering words: "Look," the son answered, "I have worked for you all these years, and I have never disobeyed your orders. But you have never even given me a young goat, so that I could celebrate with my friends."

Keller teases out the meaning of the parable -- emphasizing a point I had not really considered when reading it in the past.  The younger brother may have squandered his father's wealth, but the elder brother was just as guilty of debasing his father's love.

"I have never disobeyed your orders."  I am righteous.  I am the good son.

But it is apparent from the text that the elder son did not obey his father out of love.  He obeyed in the hopes that he could earn something.  Maybe a fatted calf.  Or a young goat.  He boasts of his obedience while standing in defiance of his father's request to come celebrate.

I thought of Keller's words today.  I bought some new electronic equipment while I was in Puerto Vallarta.  Of course, none of the boxes contained the necessary connecting cables.  And I was not quite certain how I was going to set up the components simultaneously in series and parallel.  To carry out some tests, I needed an additional HDMI cable.

Because this weekend is the equivalent of Black Friday in Mexico, and it is a three-day holiday honoring Mexico's long and bloody revolution, I wanted to avoid a trip to Manzanillo -- if I could.  So, I did what a lot of us do, I posted a request for information on our local message board.  And I received a very helpful response from a fellow local blogger.

But I received something else.  In my private message box.  A fellow I have met twice wrote he had an extra HDMI cable and I was welcome to it.

Yesterday morning, I drove over to his house.  He greeted me at the gate with cable in hand.

He then said that I might not remember, but I had muled down a pump part for him when I moved to Villa Obregon in 2009.  I had refused payment from him. 

I responded that I did remember.  And I had done it out of friendship -- even though he was otherwise a stranger to me.  And he now replied he was doing the same thing.  The cable was mine with his gratitude.

I grew up in churches where Sunday magazines were filled with stories where a grumpy next door neighbor's heart was melted by a simple act of kindness.  I have always disliked these stories.  I now know why.  They are thick with the attitude of the elder brother.  Doing something nice in hopes of receiving something nicer in return.

That is not how life works.  And it is morally false to assume that all kindnesses pay out with better odds than a Las Vegas slot machine.

My experience is that most kindnesses are paid back with selfishness and self-centered greed.  But that does not change the fact that they are kindnesses -- offered without expectation of any gain other than sharing God's love with others.

And that is why I wanted to pass along the tale of the HDMI cable to you.  It is good that we are prodigal with our love. 

As an end in itself.

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