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Monday, March 19, 2007

Mrs. Turpin and the Prodigal Son

Early Sunday morning, around 4 am-ish, I crawled out of bed and put EWTN on because I couldn't sleep and what other channel carries decent programming at that hour? I was able to watch the Pope's Laetare Mass live from Rome. Although I was tossing and turning on the sofa I caught the gospel and homily before falling into a fitful sleep.
The reading was on the prodigal son, Luke 15;1-3, 11-32, and the Pope talked about how the younger son's idea of freedom, leaving his father and doing whatever he wanted, actually made him a slave to sin while following the teachings of God frees you from those vices. It was an especially timely talk given that Pope Benedict was at a youth detention center.
I got to thinking about the older brother and I was reminded of a story I recently finished in 'Flannery O'Connor, The Complete Stories " entitled 'Revelation.' The main character Mrs. Turpin is assaulted in a doctors waiting room by a young woman who calls Mrs. Turpin a wart hog from hell. Mrs. Turpin asks God angrily why she would be singled out for this verbal and physical attack.
"What do you send me a message like that for?" she said in a low fierce voice, barely above a whisper but with the force of a shout in its concentrated fury. "How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?" [snip]
"Why me?"she rumbled. It's no trash around here, black or white, that I haven't given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church."She appeared to be the right size woman to command the arena before her. "How am I a hog?" she demanded. "Exactly how am I like them," and she jabbed the stream of water at the shoats. "There was plenty of trash there. It didn't have to be me."

At the end of the story, Mrs. Turpin has a vision of souls entering heaven and at the head of the crowd are the white trash, followed by the blacks, then freaks and lunatics and finally those like herself.
"They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away."

Mrs. Turpin, like the older brother, like many of us, live good lives, thanking the Lord we're not like white trash or our younger brothers or whomever we look down upon. We're good people who expect to be in good company once we enter the pearly gates; an eternal country club of sorts. But we are in for a rude awakening if we cannot learn to love all men and hope for their salvation regardless of color, background or pass misdeeds. The Lord is merciful, like the father of the prodigal son, and accepts all those who want to return to or enter his kingdom. We can stand like the older brother and wish for the younger brother to be rejected or treated as less thereby saving all the glory and praise for ourselves, or we can celebrate.
'The father said, 'My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.'' Luke15: 31-32

Some early disciples couldn't believe that Jesus had been sent to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. But He did come to save us all. Do not gloss over your faults because they seem insignificant compared to the sins of others lest pride poison your soul. Mrs. Turpin's comments and thoughts in the waiting room could best be compared to the prayer of the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray, and we know what Jesus said about him. Humble yourself, or allow God to do it for you.
"He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despiesed everyone else. "Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to hiimself, 'O God, I think you that I am not like the rest of humanity-greedy, dishonest, adulterous-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breat and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himsself will be exalted." Luke 18:9-14