Sunday Morning Greek Blog

April 24, 2011

Lost and Found

Filed under: Greek,Luke Gospel of,New Testament,Repentance — Scott Stocking @ 7:42 am

God never has accidents. This is not to say that God “controls” everything in such a way as to make free will a farce. Nor does this imply that God necessarily chooses to know all the free will choices everyone will make in the future: if he did, this would also bring free will into question, because nothing then could happen contrary to his knowledge of the future. (If C.S. Lewis is correct in Screwtape Letters, God sees past, present, and future in his “Now.”) All this to say that I think it is no accident that my reading this Resurrection Sunday is the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11–32). With apologies to the Olympic speed skating champion of the same name, I’m going to call this lost son Apollo, from the Greek ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi /ah POL loo mee/ ‘I destroy’, ‘I lose’).

To set the background of the story, I noticed a few things as I was reading. The one thing that sticks out most prominently to me is that there are three different Greek words used for the workers in the story:

  1. μίσθιος (misthios /MISS thee os/ [/th/ as in “thin”; always this way in Greek]), which means ‘hired hand’ (similar to the Greek word μίσθος (misthos /MISS thoss/ ‘pay’, ‘reward’)
  2. δοῦλος (doulos /DOO loss/) and its related verb δουλεύω (douleuō /doo LYOO oh/), ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ and ‘I slave’ or ‘I serve’.
  3. παῖς (pais /piess/ [like the word “pie” with an /s/ instead of a /z/ sound]) ‘servant’, ‘child’, ‘boy’, ‘girl’.

I can relate to the story of the Prodigal Son all too well, but not in the way you might think. In my adult life, I have known several times when God was calling me to do something or warning me not to do something, but did not always recognize what he was trying to tell me. In 1981, after I graduated from high school, I knew God wanted me at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. God brought several people into my life in my four years there who helped solidify my foundation in the faith. However, in 1983, as I was loading up to move back to UNL for the school year, I felt an incredible pull to stay in Omaha and not return to UNL for that school year. There is a part of me that still wishes I would have heeded that call: I wound up in one of the worst relationships of my life that caused me (and her) great heartache. However, out of the ashes of that failure to discern God’s will, I also met a man who would become one of my best friends and mentors, and who still is today. Through him and his wife at the time, I was encouraged to attend Lincoln (Illinois) Christian Seminary. In 1987, when I packed up my Chevy S10 with pretty much everything I owned, I knew without a doubt that God wanted me in seminary in Illinois.

But somewhere during my 23 years in Illinois, I got “lost.” I won’t go into details, because the choices I made were intensely personal. Yet God has blessed me and prepared me in so many ways for where I am today, that I cannot imagine my life having taken another course. (Well, I can, but like Aslan said in the Chronicles of Narnia [I think it was in The Horse and His Boy], “It’s not permitted for you to know what might have been,” or something to that effect.) At one point, perhaps five or six years ago, I started feeling the tug to come back to Nebraska. I attributed it to homesickness, but I know now that God had indeed begun the process of calling me home. I was not “spending my possessions on wasteful living,” but I knew I didn’t have my financial priorities in order, going into debt when I had no prospects for a decent job in Illinois.

In the last two years, after my wife filed for divorce from me, I found myself feeling very much like Apollo in a far off land. I had been trying on and off for several years to find full-time employment. The editing work I had became steady, but the pay was woefully late. At every turn, I was turned down for positions for which I was adequately or more than adequately qualified. The best I could do was to maintain some part-time teaching and substitute teaching assignments. In the year or so before moving back to Omaha last September, I began hearing the Nebraska Cornhusker fight song playing in my head, even when my cell phone wasn’t ringing. I was flat broke, and the best job I could come up with was $100/week preaching at a congregation of less than 10 and about $150/week part-time at the IGA. I was broke, at rock bottom, and I felt as Apollo did (and not without cause), that most people were better off than me.

I had become a δοῦλος to my stubbornness to remain in Illinois near my kids. I had no money, no vehicle, and no prospects for gainful employment. I fought tooth and nail to find employment (some weeks submitting more than a dozen résumés for professional jobs, not to mention the countless near-minimum-wage jobs) to keep me near my kids, but still, “There Is No Place Like Nebraska” kept ringing in my ears. It was inevitable: I had to return “home.” I knew job prospects were better here, and even though my parents didn’t have a family business that I could jump into as a μίσθιος, I knew I stood a better chance of being a μίσθιος for someone else, and I could stay with my parents until I got back on my feet. And that is exactly what happened: My first full business day back in Omaha, I got hired for a FT temp position at West Corporation. What I learned there directly related to the FT permanent job I have now, a job that pays better than any other job I’ve ever had, and a job that stretches me to use all of my God-given skills and talent. I have truly been blessed by heeding God’s call, even if it means I am separated from my kids by the miles. But I have to trust that God has brought me here for a reason yet undisclosed, and that I am preparing the way for my kids to reunite with me at some point in the future.

Now that you have my testimony, I have a few more comments about the parable itself. One of my favorite songs of all time is “When God Ran,” the story of the Prodigal being greeted joyously by his father, who ran to meet him in the distance. That is what God the Father does when we return to him. Apollo was welcomed back with great fanfare. I have been blessed to have the support of my family here in my months of transition, but I think sometimes we overlook the lessons from the son who stayed home and slaved (his words, δουλεύω) for his father, complaining that he never once got even a goat to celebrate with his friends. In fact, when he heard the celebration coming in from the field, he called one of the “servants” (παῖς) to ask him what was going on. Notice here first of all that the servant does not have a possessive pronoun associated with it, so he probably isn’t the elder son’s servant. He’s not one of the hired hands (μίσθιος) either. However, the word παῖς can also mean ‘child’ (male or female); but again, without the possessive pronoun, we can’t say for sure it was one of the elder son’s children. I tend to think it was a child, though, rather than a slave (δοῦλος), because of the answer (and I embellish here): “Uncle Apollo has come home, and grandpa’s throwing a party!”

The son complains, but the father’s answer I think gets overlooked all too often. No, not the answer about “My son was dead but now is alive; my son was lost but now is found.” I’m talking about the verse before that, verse 31: “My child, you are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours.” If the father in the story represents God the Father, then should we not take this message to heart as well? We have the riches of God at our disposal; all we need to do is ask.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, emphasis mine). This Resurrection Sunday, I celebrate my life resurrected, for I had become as dead in Illinois, and now am alive again in Nebraska; I had lost my way in Illinois, but have found it again in Omaha. Even so, my life here is nothing compared to the eternal reward that awaits me in his glorious kingdom.

Εἰρήνη Peace! And have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!

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