I truly enjoy a good story. I like uncovering the lesson to learn, relating to the characters, and seeing similarities in my own life. My tendency, though--and I think this is true for most of us--is to see myself only in the hero. The reality, however, is that I am the hero AND the enemy, the protagonist AND the antagonist, the victor AND the villain.
One story I keep coming back to is the classic parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:
"A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, 'I want my share of your estate now before you die.' So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living...When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.'
So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’"
I am the younger son...
I've been given much and squandered it. I have spat in the face of my Heavenly Father and said my way is better. I have arrived at the end of myself and returned in hopes of being received.
I am the father...
I've given much and it has been squandered. I've been betrayed, yet I am determined to maintain open arms. I'm not the judge, just the host of a party to celebrate the lost returning.
I am the older brother...
My pride is a threat. My self-righteousness longs for approval. My good works want to be seen and appreciated. The grace of God is so much better than any ideas of justice I can come up with.
We were all created in the image of God, so we carry God's likeness. But we are fallible humans, so we deal with the burden of sin. In every situation, there is such significant tension between being the hero and the enemy.
I think to truly understand how we relate to God and to people, we have to see ourselves in every character in every story. And not just in stories...in our daily life with people we try to label as different or wrong. We can't remove the log from our eyes to help our brother or sister with their speck if we are in a fixed position of thinking we are the hero and others the enemy.
In all of scripture and my experience, I can clearly see Jesus as the hero, our true Reconciler. The beauty of it is this: the Hero became the enemy to bring peace, the one who was without sin became sin, so that we might become his righteousness, the offended took on the likeness of the offender. It was the perfect act of solidarity and the example I long to see evident in how I view myself and others.
Books I recommend: