Luke 15: 11 – 32
For thirty years, the Gillette company had a tagline: The best a man can get. For over a century, Gillette has championed the alpha man. A new ad, however, released a couple months ago, cuts the other way, channeling the #MeToo movement and undercutting toxic masculinity. Have you seen this new ad? (Play commercial.)
I love this commercial! I was surprised, however, to discover that this ad has received twice as many dislikes as likes. Some vowing to drop their Gillette razors and wage a boycott. Some have said that they want everyone involved in this ad from the top to the bottom fired and the company to issue a public apology. Why? The message that some people hear is that masculinity is bad. Others say that the company is “gender shaming” men. But perhaps those most offended need to heed the message. For there is a huge difference between toxic masculinity and divine masculinity. Toxic masculinity includes bullying, abuse of power, and excusing men for unacceptable behavior because “boys will be boys.”
Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon entitled “God as Divine Feminine.” To balance that image I thought it was fitting to look at “God as Divine Masculine.” The Divine Feminine offers tenderness, wisdom, patience, nurture, intuition. The Divine Feminine is creative, playful and loves to be in nature. The Divine Feminine is midwife to births of every kind – children, ideas, art, books.
The Divine Masculine offers courage, loyalty, resilience, and protection. The gentle strength of the Divine Masculine brings harmony and peace to where there was conflict and separation. The Divine Masculine leads without the need of ego-stroking, is confident but not arrogant. The Divine Masculine makes one feel safe physically, emotionally, spiritually.
The Divine Feminine is referred to as Mother Earth. The Divine Masculine is referred to as “Father Sky.” The Divine Feminine is not reserved for women only. The Divine Masculine is not reserved for men only. We all have Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine energies within us. Since we spent much time exploring the Divine Feminine two weeks ago, let us explore the Divine Masculine in depth.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus lived in a patriarchal society in Palestine and thus, Jesus’ favorite name for God was “Abba” or Father or Papa. Jesus paints the image of his ideal father / God in the parable of the Prodigal Son which I like to refer to as the “The Parable of the Prodigal God” for “prodigal” really means recklessly extravagant or wasteful. Certainly, the term can refer to the son who was reckless and wasteful with his inheritance, but I would argue that it is God, or the father in this parable, who is recklessly extravagant with love and excessively wasteful with grace.
First, there is the lost younger son. He asked his father for his part of the inheritance, took the money, went to Newpoer Beach (so to speak) and spent it on riotous living, on women and wine. His theme song went something like this: Don’t worry, be happy. Ain’t no place to lay your head, somebody came and took your bed. Don’t worry, be happy. The landlord says your rent is late. He may have to litigate. Don’t worry, be happy.
The second character is the elder son. He played by the rules and paid all his dues. While his brother was sowing wild oats, he stayed home and sowed the crops. His theme song went like this: It’s a hard knock life for us; it’s a hard knock life for us.
The third character is the father. The father was distraught when his younger son ran away from home. He always kept a place set at the dinner table, hoping against hope that his son would return. He sat on the front porch day after day, searching into the far distance, yearning for his son to walk up the dirty dusty road. As you know, one day that young son “came to his senses” and went home. When the father saw the dim figure in the distance, he jumped off the porch, ran down the street, threw his arms around the son, with tears running down his face, and he smothered him with kisses. The father runs to him! Runs to him. Distinguished Middle Eastern patriarchs did not run. Children might run; women might run; young men might run – but as a general rule, the dignified pillar of the community does not run. The father hikes up his robe, showing his bare legs, and he runs to his son. “Quick,” he says, “Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger. Give him sandals for his feet. Prepare the fatted calf – we are going to celebrate! For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
What a story! How absolutely stunning. It is a story about excessive grace and wasteful love; it is a story about a Prodigal God.
I find Rembrandt’s famous painting of this moment to be quite profound. Rembrandt has entitled this masterpiece, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” The original is a life-size oil painting that can be found in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Show picture.)
This younger son is portrayed on his knees. The son’s clothes are disheveled – the ragged garments are full of holes; one shoe is off – we see both his worn sandal and his scarred feet; his head bowed in humility. As we remember, the father had a pair of sandals placed upon his returning son’s feet. The gift of shoes meant that the wayward son was still a member of the family. Back in the first century, there were some who wore shoes and some who did not wear shoes. A free person wore shoes while slaves went barefoot. Interesting, a spiritual that the slaves sang in hope of freedom went, “All God’s children got shoes; all God’s children have traveling shoes.” Having shoes was an outward symbol that meant you are free and you are a part of the family. Remember the son’s confession, “Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands” (or some translations say, “Treat me like a slave.”) But the father with his gifts of sandals says, “No, you are still my son. You are a precious member of this family.” (James W. Moore, Jesus’ Parables of the Lost and Found, pg. 58).
The short, expensive sword on the right side of the prodigal son is the only remaining marker of the status he once had. He was a son of a noble landowner.
The father, in contrast, is in a rich, glowing red cape. The warm tones in both father and son contribute to a harmonious whole. He leans over his son, almost enveloping him, his hands gently resting on the son’s back. Henry Nouwen, a deceased priest and author, spent hours studying this picture, paying particular attention to the hands. He saw that one hand is a man’s hand with even fingers, slightly rough. The other hand is different – the fingers are longer, slender, tapered; the hand is caressing, offering consolation – a feminine hand. Yes, God is like that, said Nouwen: a loving, forgiving, welcoming, protecting mother-father. The hands are open; they are hands of blessing; they are hands of love and grace. (Henry Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son). The son rests his head on his father’s chest. He is hearing his father’s heartbeat. Yes, in this very unique painting, Rembrandt captures the heartbeat of heaven – a father “filled with compassion.”
In this painting Rembrandt portrays a God who is forgiving, magnanimous, compassionate, loving, always welcoming us home. I understand that Rembrandt in his early years had a wild streak himself. Perhaps this has been Rembrandt’s experience of coming home to God.
This is the parable that Jesus tells of a prodigal God. There are Divine Masculine traits in this God – loyalty, resilience, protection, safety. The father uses his gentle strength to bring peace and harmony where had been conflict and separation. But there are also Divine Feminine traits — tenderness, wisdom, patience, nurture, play, celebration! Within the sacred heart of the Divine source, we see that the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine can together unite, create, and heal anything. And when we honor and integrate our Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine energies, we write a new future for ourselves, humanity, and this planet.
Interestingly, I have some colleagues who do not refer to God as “He” or “She”, but rather they refer to God as “They,” the gender non-binary term of “They.” After all, at the creation of the world, God said, “Let us create humanity in our image, male and female, let us create them.” By referring to the Holy as “They,” my colleagues are affirming the fluidity of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine together. But whatever pronoun you choose to call the Holy – He, She, They – may you know in the depths of your being the exceedingly excessive grace and wasteful, prodigal love of the Divine. Amen.