Forgetting the Good and its repercussions

Mary Magdala Community

“Forgetting the Good and its repercussions” ©

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

Today’s Gospel found in the 15th chapter of Luke is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son and the forgiving father.

Homily thoughts on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 6, 2016

Familiar as it is, this story of forgiveness at any time is a lesson to live by. On our way to Easter’s transformation forgiving each other feeds the hope for new life.

This time ‘round, though, I would like to consider this wayward child who walked away from the father who had given him so much. This son whose choices and lifestyle resulted in hanging out with pigs, as we say, came to his senses. He remembers, from the perspective of the pig sty, all that was good about his father, his family, the household, the lifestyle he had abandoned. And to say that he remembered all these things is also to say that he had forgotten what was good in his former life – the life to which he now wished to return.

Forgetting is a fascinating dynamic because it doesn’t only occur at the time of remembering. Forgetting reaches back to each rejection on the list of those things which the son walked away from. To put something aside is the beginning of forgetfulness. And the longer one maintains such a list the easier it is to forget.

Remembering, one can say, is the act of facing this forgetfulness so one can take another look at what has been forgotten. There is something in these forgotten things that remembering wants to return to. What is it? It is the good that makes forgotten things that are remembered one of life’s treasures.

Did the prodigal son return just to get 3 meals a day and a roof back over his head? To think so would be an accusation of cynicism against the one who teaches with this parable.

No, the prodigal son returns because he remembers what he had chosen to forget – that in his father’s house lives acceptance, love, forgiveness. These are the good things that had been lost in the prodigal son’s forgetfulness.

Memories, all too often, must be healed due to past experiences that were detrimental. However, memories are also the source of revealing the good that underlies experiences we had forgotten. And sometimes that forgetfulness serves only self-serving purposes.

For example, we too often forget that the collective good of a healthy, economically sound, and spiritually fulfilling society is based upon shared sacrifice as well as shared benefits. Goodness is at the root of both sacrifices and benefits. With this understanding we as a society are not permitted to forget the good of advancing the quality of life of all members and not only to those who have concentrated capital and accumulated wealth to their own benefit.

Back when Jean and I lived in eastern Kentucky the evidence of our society’s forgetfulness of the southern mountains of Appalachia was everywhere. One example, at Jean’s school which she founded as an alternative secondary school for students who chose not to participate in the public school system, aka dropouts, she employed for a time three Xaverian Brothers. The Xaverian Brothers is a religious community that ran St. X High School in Louisville, KY. St. X was, and is, the elite school to attend if you wanted a practically guaranteed leg-up as a foundation to a successful career and overall good life.

The Brothers who taught for Jean each had long careers teaching the children of the elite at St. X. One day one of the Brothers was talking with Jean. He identified one of the students he had in class at David School, this unpretentious academic enterprise in Appalachia. He said this student was as smart as, even smarter than any student he had ever taught. And due to the selective forgetfulness of our society it was reasonably certain that he would never get the opportunity that his generational peers at St. X would get.

Yes, class privilege, like white privilege, is all too often a determinative mark in this land of opportunity. So, when we forget because we choose to forget, may we keep in mind the good that resurfaces when we remember what we had forgotten.

Like, the good of sharing sacrifice and benefit,

Or the good that calls forth the best in us, like forgiveness.

Why else would we call the day of Jesus’ death, Good Friday?

What is the Good if not the restoring to our memory the forgiveness that makes us whole again?


A Prayer

Reconcile us to one another and to you, O God.

We are your priestly people who see the grace

of each day’s challenge.

Grace us with the gift to make is sacred and

to place it in service of your Word, Jesus Christ,

the suffering servant who leads the way,

now and forever.     Amen.

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