My delving deeply into the parables of Jesus was because of an email.
I had not heard from my brother for fifteen years.
One evening, I received an email from a woman who wanted to know if I could contact her, because my brother wanted to talk with me. She had access to a computer, and was trying to get a hold of me on my brother’s behalf. The memories came back—excruciating ones that I had tried to leave in the past and now were swirling though my mind as I read this email.
My brother had battled with drugs and alcohol for decades, and as a result, went through two marriages. I was very close to his first wife and my two nieces. My husband and I did all we could to help her when my brother chose his addiction over his family. We even had his wife and his daughters come live with us when he engaged in emotional abuse and threats of violence towards her.
He eventually became homeless and lived in his car by the city’s river.
He soon remarried, and this stormy relationship saw an arrival of another daughter. His second wife suffered from mental illness and did everything she could to estrange my brother from us.
He eventually left her and went to live in his car again.
Sadly, my brother’s first wife remarried a man who had a criminal record, which did not allow for my nieces to live in the same household. Now my two nieces would have to live elsewhere. My brother had finally gotten an apartment, but there were drug deals going on in the park across the street. It was not a safe neighborhood. I then went and retrieved my two nieces and they came to live with us.
One of the daughters chose to live with another aunt and moved out of state.
Eventually, the younger daughter went back home to live with her mother. The parole board had said it was alright to do so, and we felt that our niece belonged with her mother, even if she had made a poor choice of a second husband.
That was back in 1996. My last contact with my brother was listening to him say that his children were not his problem. He laughed as I pleaded over the phone for him to be responsible. I hung up the phone, shocked and amazed at his utter repudiation of his children.
I lost what little respect I had for him that day.
I lost contact with him altogether.
Fifteen years later, I was faced with this email: my brother wanted to reestablish contact with me. The email also included a number of an elderly woman who offered to talk with me before I contacted him.
I thought that best—I wanted to understand what had happened to my brother in the intervening fifteen years. I called her and she sweetly explained that after my brother’s second marriage had failed, he became homeless again, and ended up living by the river. My brother had become mentally ill yet through the love and kindness of many, he received the medical treatment he needed and a place to live. She was very proud of his progress. He had helped her and husband, and he meant a lot to her.
Wow. I labored along and hard in my mind about what to do. I could still hear his laughter in my head and the pain of what he put his first wife and daughters through in my heart.
Then after spending time in prayer, it hit me: the parable of the Prodigal Son came blazing into my mind. I was the older brother in that parable: angry, spiteful and very hurt, glad that my brother was doing better, yet fighting the urge to throw the past into his face and say, “Look what you did to us!”
So right then and there, I realized that this parable was not just a story told by Jesus to illustrate a truth. It became a story that I was now living.
The other parable that came roaring into my mind was the one involving the ungrateful servant. The king had forgiven this guy a huge amount of debt. This servant then hunts down a fellow servant and beats the tar out of him for a few measly coins.
I had been forgiven so much from my King, and now I resented having to forgive my brother.
Wow. I was living inside another parable.
The parables pointed me to what Jesus was asking of me: to forgive and be reconciled to my brother.
I could be obedient or obstinate.
I talked to my brother soon after, and we were able to have a good relationship in what turned out to be the final years of his life. He found a church that ministered largely to people with drug and alcohol issues and mental heath challenges. He played on the church’s worship team, (one Sunday I joined his team and played with him) and he preached from the pulpit. He had a lovely partner and a nice place to live. But sadly, the years of drug and alcohol abuse drove him so deeply into mental illness, he lost everything, and ended up dying alone in his apartment.
But I am so glad we were able to make beauty out of the ashes for a time. I would have lost all of that if I had chosen to blow him off, and focus solely on the past.
My experience in the real world brought the stories of Jesus to life—to real life. Isn’t that where Jesus meets us? In the real world? In our world? A resounding “Yes!” is my response.
So, come with me as we explore the parables of Jesus. I am certainly not the first person to explore the parables, and nor will I be the last, but I always find there is a freshness in His Word when we dig deep.