14 March, Saturday – Put Bitterness and Comparisons to Death

Dear Readers, we are sorry for the delay in sending out today’s Oxygen. 
We wish you a blessed weekend. In the midst of this pandemic of the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19), us at OXYGEN pray for all of you to be healthy and positive. Let us keep vigilant with personal hygiene, be mindful of the many vulnerable persons (the young and elderly, those with unseen comorbidity illnesses), and keep an open mind towards members of other ethnic communities with open hearts to empathise how each of us are enduring unique challenges in this ‘lock-down’ and ‘social-distancing’ climate that we are in. Many church communities around the world have started limiting or suspending religious services and the Mass to reduce the risk of wider community transmission. During this season of Lent, we recognise this as a common-passion with our fellow Christians who have long been facing religious persecution around the world.

Let us be united in our prayer for each other, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.

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14 March

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt
grant us to see wonders.

What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

  ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

  ‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

  ‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

  ‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

  ‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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It was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found

Bitterness in the midst of a life of faith. Whoever said that a life of faith is anything like a bed of roses? Whoever told us that the blessedness of Christians should only be a life of endless rewards and few challenges, or only the obviously surmountable ones?

Do you happen to be in the midst of such a bitter season now? You are not alone. I am here in the ditches with you. In fact, I have been here for quite a while it seems. This desert and wilderness we speak of in Lent – I am far-too familiar with this god-forsaken landscape.

The parable of the lost son is also the story of the prodigal father. It is also a story of the bitter, jealous, and petty elder son. The Great Wilderness we read about in this parable is a harsh landscape that all three of them experienced. The wilderness the younger son was lost in, is also the wilderness of loss that the sorrowful alienated father experienced, and it is also the wilderness of bitterness that the elder son was stewing in.

I hope to take us all through a few meditations on each of these characters.

The father
The division of the property between his two sons must have long hurt the father before the younger one set off for his life of debauchery. How many of us have felt the sting of being a rejected, disrespected parent? How many of us have felt the pain of a child who expresses “I am done!” with the family and leaves home, or seems to turn his/her back on the lessons and upbringing you have given? Sometimes we can never understand the choices our children make, try as we might. They may have forsaken our love and provision for a life so antithetical to ours and it hurts. Particularly, if their choices clearly bring real physical and emotional pain to themselves. However, the gift of understanding is also not lost to us parents – we only need to seek. Perhaps we have chasms in our memories that reveal our real foibles as parents too, where we have actually inflicted wounds on our children. Wounds that they still grief about as grown-ups. We pray to God to reveal the truth to us and grant us humility and forgiveness. 

The lost younger son

Some of us are the lost younger son. We may have lived a life of abundance and love in the house of our parents. Yet, we cannot explain why we crave the approval of the world and desire to try the ‘forbidden’ experiences that life outside of boring harmony has brought us. Perhaps we have been wounded very deeply by the very flawed persons our parents are, and experience a sort of internal rejection for the flawed people we feel we have inevitably become. We reject our present life and we want to claim ownership for our choices. We want to choose experiences that we have been denied of, or we sometimes choose paths that hurt us, thinking we could hurt the ones who have hurt us.

Maybe you are on the verge of turning home. You have been pricked by a dull sensation (and you hate to call it conscience, or a hardened heart), and you realise with age and experience (maybe even starting a family of your own) that parenting is seriously confounding and challenging work. You realise that maybe your parents didn’t know better back then. Perhaps, you still hate them because you have found that you are repeating some of their mistakes, against every fibre of your more enlightened self – and finally, you start to empathise with them. We pray to God for the grace of forgiveness and repentance.

The elder son
Are we the older child in the family who has grown up feeling side-lined, or felt we experienced unfair treatment when compared with our siblings? Do we feel that we had harsher punishments or have more was expected just because “you are older”? This has invariably led to strained relationships with your parents or other siblings. Perhaps when you were younger and had less of a ‘voice’ you were unable to make these feelings known. Yet as you have grown older, you cannot help but be triggered with bitterness over history and have no way of being released from this unhappiness. We pray for the grace of empathy, forgiveness, and for joy to be free from resentment. 

In this sense, we have all been estranged in one way or another, from the people we love the most (or should love the most). These are the relationships we first learn how to love and be loved from: our parents and siblings. And this why they are also the relationships that cause the first and greatest hurts that we ever experience in life.

There are no easy answers to resolve these longstanding wounds, but I am sure we all desire to be free from these difficult emotions. I truly believe the way forward for many of us is to break the ‘vicious cycles’ of familial and intergenerational wounds. We either work hard to heal from these, or we risk bringing these unconsciously into our future relationships and families. The first step is a great desire to heal, the further steps are a persevering willingness to keep on walking the path of healing no matter how challenging. Even if we don’t see immediate results. We are healing the past in order to build the future and a more beautiful legacy of love and freedom.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer:  We are all on this journey to heal. We pray to God to grant us wisdom to see the truth, courage to respond to the call to change, and deep joy for the journey.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for the gift of understanding and empathy. It helps me to see how our lives are intertwined, and so it is with love and pain. Thank you for being our God of endless redemption.

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