Faith Moment
January 5, 2015
Voyage and Return

A British journalist by the name of Christopher Booker says that all of literature can be classified into seven basic narratives.  Booker identifies each category in his book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.  One such category he describes is the "Voyage and Return" plot.  In this category, Booker places Alice and Wonderland, Peter Rabbit, Gone with the Wind, and others stories that chronicle a hero who travels away from the familiar and into the unfamiliar, only to return with new perspective.    

Booker also identifies Jesus's parable of the Prodigal Son as a “Voyage and Return” plot.  The younger son demands his inheritance, travels to another country, squanders his money until he has nothing left, and finally decides to come home again, pleading for mercy.  When told or heard like this, it is a story that fits neatly into Booker's category.  Journeys to faith and to the Father are often stories of coming and going and returning again.   

But is this an accurate understanding of the parable of Jesus?  Is the story of the prodigal son really about the son?  Is our membership in the body of Christ about our coming and going or Christ's?  

My story of life as a Christian also includes some elements of wandering to and from faith. If I myself am the main character, this is the story I must tell.  

Thankfully, I am not.  And Jesus's parable of the prodigal son is one more reminder of this.  The parable of the prodigal son is only a "voyage and return" narrative in the way Booker describes it if the son is the subject of the story. Jesus tells us that it was while the son was still "a long way off" that the father saw him and "was filled with compassion for him" (Luke 15:20).  Literally, this father was moved by this compassion.  The Greek word for compassion conveys an inward movement of concern and mercy, but this man was also clearly moved outwardly.  The father runs to the son, embraces him (literally, "falls upon his neck"), and kisses him.  

This is not a story about the wayward son who runs to the father but the father who runs to his wayward son even before he knows whether the son is repentant!  In fact, the father runs without any promise that the son is even home to stay.  Jesus gives us a story whose merciful ending has far more to do with the actions of the father than any action of the son.  

So it is with our own stories.  Your place in the body of Christ is never valid because of who you are, but because of who Christ is. If we must use Booker's headings to describe the journey of faith, the voyage was Christ's, so that we might forever return to the Father.

With love,

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