I was in therapy for five years but I didn’t enter therapy the traditional way. I entered therapy as a therapist.
When you learn to do psycho-therapy one of the first things you have to learn are the psychological disorders. We had to buy the DSM-IV and read that thing like it was our Bible. Reading endless lists of symptoms is enough to make you think maybe you have the disorders yourself, medical student’s disease, thinking you have the diseases you study. Some disorders were outright scary while others were a bit more humorous…the one that probably got the most attention was Koro. You can look that one up for yourself. I have yet to meet someone who thought they had that.
Once you start doing therapy you realize more and more the power of story. The old image of a patient laying on a couch dredging up stories from their childhood isn’t entirely accurate but it also doesn’t entirely miss the mark either. The events of our past often influence our present. That doesn’t mean that every single thing that is going on today is due to some unstoppable force from the past. It does mean that our past shapes us in more ways than we often think about or would like to admit. The stories we learn to tell ourselves have a direct impact on the person we believe ourselves to be. These stories are called our metanarratives…the stories that shape us. They can be personal (what happened to you in life) or communal (what it means to embrace American value systems).
Identifying Metanarratives in the Prodigal Son
Just take the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. His choice of words displays his inner narrative that also explain why he has such a hard time accepting his younger brother.
“But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” (Lk 15:29).
It’s a wonder the guy had friends. But that’s not the point. All these years he hadn’t seen himself as a son but as a slave. The one who should have no place back in the family is received back without a hitch to what the older son possessed the whole time, he just didn’t see it that way…sonship. He is bitter. He is bitter because the one who didn’t lift a finger to get accepted got accepted and the one who has been slaving away feels he has been rejected not just now but for “all these years”. This is a deep hurt and as we often see, hurt people hurt people. It didn’t have to be that way. It was only that way because the older son choose to embrace the wrong story…allowing other’s stories to get in the way. Mixed up metanarratives are the root of jealousy, pride and so much else that is wrong with the world.
We usually apply the prodigal son parable to losing and finding…the rejoicing that comes from the lost that are found. That is central to this parable. We know that because Jesus says so at the end of each of the three parables we have in Luke 15.
But I also believe the parable of the prodigal son has as much to do with losing and finding as it does to helping Jesus’ intended audience (embittered teachers of the law and Pharisees) identify their meta-narrative, see it is wanting and accept a better one (see Lk 15:1-2)…the Gospel metanarrative. We do know the context of the parable and that it was directed to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who had a hard time understanding why Jesus accepted the “tax collectors and sinners” and welcomed them at his table. Just like the older brother, in his ministry Jesus also welcomed the Pharisees at his table but still they insisted on missing out on the party, not because they hadn’t been invited but because they missed the point of what it means to be the people of God. Here they had been slaving all these years…obeying every jot and tittle…and they were every bit as bitter about it as this older brother.
Everyone has a story.
Those Pharisees have a story too and as you get to know their story you begin to make sense out of their actions and attitudes. More on that next time…
So let me ask you this, what metanarratives are behind much of what you do? What metanarratives are behind the sins that seem to entangle you or the unhealthy relationships that you just can’t seem to shake?
How might the Gospel story…the resurrection narrative…lived out in you help all of that change for the better?