On Dismantling Barriers and Coming Home
There’s a story Jesus tells about a son who leaves home, blows all his inheritance and makes a mess of his life. When he finally gets the courage to go back to his father’s house, his father is ready and waiting, running to meet him with open arms. The father dresses him up and throws a huge party.
I’ve always thought that was a nice gesture. But I’ve come to see that what the father is doing for his son is what Father Greg Boyle calls returning him to himself. The robe, the ring, the sandals, the celebration – all restore the son to his true identity; a beloved son in his father’s house. It’s a picture of God, who is too busy loving us to be disappointed in us, as Father Greg always says.
Jesus returns us to ourselves over and over again. He sees in us the divine spark, the seed of the One in whose image we are created, and he never stops calling us back home. But more than that, he comes to keep us company on the journey. He picks up the pieces that get broken along the way and restores us with tenderness and compassion. He hands us back our self-worth and our dignity, our inherent value and our chosenness. He returns us to our true self, our true identity as infinitely precious, extravagantly beloved children of God.
In returning us to ourselves, Jesus also returns us to each other. We are instructed to love our neighbours as ourselves because you are the other me. There can be no peace and justice for me until there is peace and justice for you. In the kingdom of God, there is no ‘them and us,’ there is only ‘us.’
Throughout his ministry, Jesus consistently removes barriers to full participation in the community of God’s people. Even his healings, Father Greg says, are not so much about the cure, but about inclusion.
The leper, the blind man, the woman with the issue of blood.
The tax collector, the prostitute, the adulterer.
The refugee, the gang member, the person of colour.
The LGBTQ person.
All of us are made in God’s image and all of us receive the generous welcome of Jesus so we can be fully restored to ourselves and each other. That is the true healing we need. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,’ as the letter to the Galatians puts it.
We are called to love like Jesus does; to return people back to themselves by delighting in them, valuing them, finding the spark of the divine in them.
Of course, it seems easier to find God’s image in some people than others. It is easier to notice it in our loved ones and our close friends. It’s easier to see it in the people we think of as ‘good’ or special or more like us. But in God’s kingdom there are no fences to climb over or hoops to jump. He didn’t create some people in his image and not others. Jesus is only ever interested in widening the circle of love and acceptance until it fully encompasses the whole world.