Readings for Readings for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: EX 32: 7-11, 13-14; PS 51: 3-4, 12-13, 19; ITM 1: 12-17; LK 15: 1-32.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, shocked us all recently by refusing to stand up for the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before football games. His bold action seems intimately connected with Andre Gide's daring reinterpretation of Jesus' parable of The Prodigal Son which is centralized in today's liturgy of the word.
To begin with, think about the reasons for Kaepernick's action and the response it has evoked. Explaining himself, the Pro Bowl quarterback said, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
In effect Kaepernick was supporting the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). He was pointing out the fact that from the African-American point of view we don't actually live in anything like "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Instead our homeland is a place where African-Americans are still not as free as white people, and where most of us are scared out of our wits. White people walk around frightened of terrorists, black men, immigrants, Muslims, and a whole host of ailments whose remedies Big Pharma hawks to us incessantly through our computers and flat screens. Free and Brave? Not so much.
By sitting down during the singing of the National Anthem Kaepernick was symbolically calling attention to that contradiction. He was separating himself from the comfort of his patriarchal home dominated by the false consciousness of American exceptionalism, machismo, militarism, and knee-jerk jingoism.
All of reminds me of the hero of The Prodigal Son story retold in today's liturgy of the word. (We'll return to Kaepernick in a moment.) No, I'm not talking about the father of the so-called prodigal. Instead, I'm referring to the central character in Andre Gide's version of today's over-familiar tale.
Here' I'm taking my cue from John Dominic Crossan's book The Power of Parable: how fiction by Jesus became fiction about Jesus. There Crossan suggests challenging Luke's parable as excessively patriarchal. After all, the story is about a bad boy who realizes the error of his ways and returns home to daddy and daddy's patriarchy with its familiar rules, prohibitions, and tried and true ways of doing things.
But what if the story were about escaping the confines of a falsely-secure patriarchal reality. What if prodigal left home and never looked back? Would he have been better off? Would we be better off by not following his example as described today by Luke -- by instead separating from the patriarchy, its worship of power, violence, and patriotism and never looking back? Would we be freer and braver by following the example of Colin Kaepernick?
The French intellectual Andre Gide actually asked such questions back in 1907 when he wrote "The Return of the Prodigal Son." In his version, Gide expands the cast of the parable's characters to five, instead of the usual three. Gide adds the father's wife and a younger son. The latter, bookish and introspective, becomes the story's central figure who escapes his father's walled estate never to return.
According to Crossan, Gide tells his version of Jesus' parable through a series of dialogs between the returned prodigal and his father, his older brother, his mother, and lastly, his younger brother. In his dialog, the father reveals that the older brother is really in charge of the father's household. According to daddy, the brother is extremely conservative. He's convinced that there is no life outside the walls of the family compound. This is the way most people live.
Then the mother comes forward. She tells the prodigal about his younger brother. "He reads too much," she says, and . . . often perches on the highest tree in the garden from which, you remember, the country can be seen above the walls." One can't help detect in the mother's words a foreboding (or is it a suppressed hope) that her youngest son might go over the wall and never come back.
And that's exactly what the younger son decides to do. In his own dialog with the returned prodigal, he shares his plan to leave home that very night. But he will do so, he says, penniless -- without an inheritance like the one his now-returned brother so famously squandered.
"It's better that way," the prodigal tells his younger sibling. "Yes leave. Forget your family, and never come back." He adds wistfully, "You are taking with you all my hopes."
Gide's version of Jesus' parable returns us to Colin Kaepernick, and how in these pivotal times he has followed the youngest son in Gide's parable as he goes over the wall into the unfamiliar realm of uncertainty, danger, and creative possibility.
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