by Remy Remmers
Content Warning: talk of abuse/domestic violence
Inclusion is a divisive issue. We have seen the impacts of this in church life recently. Who should be included to what level should some people be included? Are they righteous enough? Did they deserve it. Did they work hard enough for it? Jesus not only included sinners, but shared meals with them. Lived in community with them. Naturally this caused some grumbles. Some “well-meaning” comments to make sure Jesus knew exactly who he was associating with (and who he should be associating with). Jesus, instead of handling their criticism head on in a calm matter to bring them to the “proper” conclusion, tells a passive aggressive parable in response.
Now I’m going to read this parable in a different way than you’re used to. Prepare yourselves. It’s going to get queer:
There was a man with two children. One child, the younger one, knew that he had to leave his hometown. He didn’t fit the narrative that he had been taught. Maybe he was queer. He asked his father for the means to escape his hometown. Maybe his father had some inkling about his son not being like the other boys perhaps a little queer. His father wanted him to be happy, and so he did what his child asked. This son had never been given the tools to safely navigate his sexuality or gender in his hometown. There were no examples, or at least no good example with happy endings. Most talked negatively of the lifestyle - made it the punch line of a joke, or they talked about it openly with hostility. So this child ran away to a new town.
With this lack of guidance and newness to an area he trusted the wrong people. The community that he ran to originally liked and welcomed him. The relationship did not remain this way. The prodigal son got into an abusive relationship and could not leave. This younger child became part of a community that only used him for his money. This story is unfortunately common to the queer people. This is not because there is something wrong with being queer. This is because when you are a part of a marginalized group people often take advantage of you. Queer people face higher rates of domestic violence - especially bisexual women and trans folx. A 2012 survey found that less than 5% of LGBTQ [sic] survivors of intimate partner violence reported and sought legal protection. People stay in toxic relationships and places partially due to economics. Does everyone have access to an income that is not attached to their partner? The younger child did not have a steady income, and the people that took advantage of him did not care for him after the money had run out.
There is this LGBTQIA+ (especially transgender) stereotype of going to a new town, being who you know you are (or discover yourself), and never going home. There is this fear that if your childhood friends and family heard about you now, they will never accept you, so why bother? This fear is grounded in every inappropriate joke that they have made and the stories that you have heard about others coming out. This is part of why the son does not go home immediately. Will they be ready for him there? Will he just be shamed when he returns? The economics of the situation makes things worse. He is now a poor immigrant that cannot make ends meet. The land he is in thinks he is dirty and will let him work with the pigs to try and shame him into leaving for they knew Jews thought pigs were unclean. He tries to think rationally: even the lowest in the hierarchy in his hometown has food. He can be treated poorly at home, but at least he will have his basic needs met. He does not expect emotional intimacy or acceptance. He expects to return as the joke of the town, and slowly he becomes okay with that. Returning home is hard. It can seem as though you have changed so much and they haven’t. Your memory of them remains static in your mind. Going home is not always the healthy choice – it’s not always a choice. Sacrifices are made to become acceptable to the dominant narrative.
This story has an unusual sequence of events. The child comes home dejected, defeated, abused, ashamed, uncertain, (insert emotion because there were so many). The father is filled with joy seeing his child alive. The father feels no shame for having this child. The father doesn’t even try to debate his child not being welcome because he’s queer because he was abused because he acted out of fear and ran away. This father immediately calls for a robe for his child and celebrates his child coming. This is my beloved with whom I am well pleased. You are welcome here. You belong.
This story would’ve been wonderful if it ended there, but it didn’t. The older brother was angry that his younger sibling was not only welcome in the door but celebrated and cherished. Who you choose include will make people angry. Relationships will become strained because some people simply don’t want to become inclusive. Or rather they want to become inclusive on their terms. This happens especially for those that more readily fit the dominant narrative of society. They don’t love it sure, but it is not incredibly burdensome. The older brother fit the narrative of their hometown enough that he was confused why his younger sibling didn’t. The older brother probably thought that his younger sibling just didn’t try hard enough to fit in. He didn’t realize the pain of isolation that his younger brother felt. The Father comes out to try and bridge this relationship because his younger child shouldn’t have to explain themself all the time to every person. Sometimes a relationship is lost, and that is sad. Sometimes ending a relationship is the healthiest thing that can be done.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.