Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Letter from Handlon Campus: Kezazah and the prodigal son

Many sermons and Bible lessons have been given on the prodigal son story from Jesus, found in Luke 15. Notably, Jesus tells this story after some “grumbling” from the Pharisees and scribes about who Jesus was associating and eating with. However, I want to point something out about this story: running. The father running to his son is significant. Luke 15:20 states, “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.” Why is this significant? Wasn’t he excited to see his son? After all, he was lost but came home. The father saw him coming and was overjoyed and ran to meet him. Looking at the story from this side of history and from the eyes of current Western culture, that sounds right. However, let’s try to look at this from the perspective of the people Jesus was telling this story to. 

Luke chapter 15:2 says that Jesus was telling this story to the “Pharisees and teachers of religious law” who would know of the Jewish tradition “Kezazah.” In that time and culture, the tradition of Kezazah said that if someone lost his inheritance among Gentiles, like the son, then the community would banish him if he returned. Dr. Les Parrott, author, professor and psychologist, states in the book “Love Like That: 5 Relationship Secrets from Jesus” that in Kezazah, the community would break a large pot in front of the person to symbolize his banishment from the community. They would then yell something to the effect of “you are cut off from your people” or “you do not belong.” The rejection would not only be humiliating but also irreversible.

This makes the father running to the son even more meaningful. Additionally, in Jewish culture at that time, a dignified Middle Eastern man never ran. It would mean he would have to hike up his tunic so he wouldn’t trip. Tunics were normally loose-fitting clothing that extended to the knees. It was humiliating and shameful for men to show their bare legs. In order for the father to run, he had to be willing to be shamed. According to Parrott, he would do this to show that he accepted his son back before the community had a chance to perform “Kezazah,” and therefore his son would not experience the shame and humiliation of the community’s rejection. The father took the shame by exposing his legs and running to the wasteful son to protect the son, even though his son was wrong. He did not want the son to be rejected by his community.

Rejection can have dire consequences. For instance, rejection can involve physical pain, as in Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which has been commonly seen in people (like me) with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Rejection can even change a person’s brain. Just like in prolonged trauma, neural functions will alter with prolonged rejection. 

How can we be approachable and inclusive like Jesus but also protective of our minds? 

This is why it is so important for Christians to love like Jesus. Being transformed by the renewing of your mind is more than metaphorical. Your brain actually changes the more you love others, and that love protects and changes the brains of those around you. According to Parrott, psychologists call our needs to be included in our affiliative drive. We are born with an insatiable inner need to be included. Jesus understood this deep need for community, for fellowship, for connection. This is why he was intentionally and shockingly approachable. His fellow rabbis operated on principles of exclusion and isolation, but not Jesus. 

How can we be approachable and inclusive like Jesus but also protective of our minds? 

This brings me to forbidden cities. In ancient Asia, there were forbidden cities that only royalty could enter. If somehow someone was found to be in one of these forbidden cities who wasn’t supposed to be there, they were executed, as stated in the book “The Art of Power” by Thich Nhat Hanh. We all should have forbidden fortresses in our minds, meaning that we need to be careful of what we let in. Hate, bitterness, envy, greed and lust are all things that we should not let in our minds. We should execute those thoughts right away and replace them with love, compassion and self-control.

Our thoughts have critical effects. Similar to the prodigal son story is the history of Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20. Manasseh was raised in a good home by a father who was known to be loving, compassionate and a close follower of God. However, after Manasseh’s father died, Manasseh became King of Judah, and with that power, he started to make some foolish mistakes. Although he was not raised that way, Manasseh went down the slippery slope of wrong thinking. The Bible records him doing all sorts of bad things. He led his own people astray. Manasseh was captured, put in prison and was awaiting certain death when he called out to his heavenly Father in true repentance. The Bible informs us that God heard his prayer. God, seeing his heart, ran to him. Manasseh was eventually released from prison and became King of Judah again all because of God’s mercy. Manasseh never returned back to the detestable things he once did. He even rebuilt the outer walls of Jerusalem and made them higher and thicker than before. Like Manasseh, we need to build the walls around the forbidden city of our mind and not let the things that do not belong enter them. 

It is easy to be distracted with what others are doing. It is easy to be influenced or worry about what others think. We all know how perception can affect life. We are all meaning seekers.  However, we are called to live a life that is worthy of our calling. To show gratitude and compassion. To lead with our ears and not with what we think or perceive something to mean. To not be so focused on personal agendas that we are oblivious to the hurts and needs of others. 

We all struggle to set aside self-interest and let go of our personal agendas. So, what about you? Will you quiet your thoughts long enough to hear the still small whisper of the Holy Spirit?

At Princeton University, psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson conducted a study years ago that is now recounted in nearly every university social psychology course, according to Parrott’s book. The researchers met individually with each member of a group of students who were in seminary. They asked each student to prepare a short talk on the good Samaritan story in the Bible. They then told the student that they needed them to rush to a nearby building on the campus and give a speech on the story. They informed the student that they were late and needed to go at that moment in order to get to the other building in time. What the students didn’t know was that an actor was hired to be in between the buildings and be in obvious need for help. The actor would be visible by the students who were rushing to the other building, and look in obvious distress and pain. The question was who would stop and lend a hand? However, the fact that the students had just read the story of the good Samaritan made no difference. Very few students stopped. 

We all struggle to set aside self-interest and let go of our personal agendas. So, what about you? Will you quiet your thoughts long enough to hear the still small whisper of the Holy Spirit? Will you be selective about what thoughts you let in? Will you run into the loving arms of a graceful heavenly father who wants nothing more than to give you life in abundance? As quoted by Parrott, author John Ortberg states that “attention is so valuable we don’t just give it, we pay attention. It’s like money.” So, who are you paying your attention to?

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    Derek ConklinMar 1, 2024 at 1:03 pm

    Great Job Brian! It’s amazing to see what limits the heavenly Father will go to reach his children! What greater shame could there be from our creator dying while hanging naked on a tree because of Love!