I have often repeated the proverb “Familiarity breeds contempt” without actually knowing of its origin. According to The American Heritage Idiom Dictionary, the first recorded use of the expression was in Chaucer’s “Tale of Melibee” (c. 1386).
Full disclosure here: I have never read Chaucer’s book. But the saying seems to be one of those great truths based in real life: Long experience with someone can make one aware of their shortcomings, and those shortcomings can become the object of dislike or even contempt.
We all have had people in our lives who did not improve as we became better acquainted with them. Perhaps that explains the success of social media: we can manipulate what people get to know about us. The great fear of self-disclosure — that people will not like us if they get to know us — can be eliminated with a few key strokes.
However I was thinking about things we may take for granted, or become invisible or irrelevant after long exposure to them — like how a familiar story is no longer significant. Specifically the story of the prodigal son as recorded in Luke chapter 15. While I do not have the space to comment on the whole chapter, I recommend it to you based on at least one Biblical scholar who suggested that all of human kind can find their place in their relationship to God in that single chapter: the lost sheep, the lost coin or the brother lost at home and did not even realize he was lost.
The centerpiece of the chapter appears to be the story of a man with two sons. The younger one became impatient. He could not wait to get his hands on one-third of the family business. Jewish tradition would have given the first born a double portion. The father gave the son his inheritance and off he went.
I have been asked and sometimes wondered why the father would do this for his son who did not seem to have a clue about responsibility. Perhaps like fathers of today, allowing kids to get drivers licenses or jobs, there is an understanding you can’t control outcomes and certainly God allows what may be disastrous unrestricted choice.
The King James Version politely says after the son left for a far country, he “wasted his substance with riotous living.” A contemporary translation might be drugs, sex and rock and roll. Regardless of which description you prefer, the reality is he burned through his inheritance quickly and was left without money or friends. With no more couches to surf, he ended up sharing dinner with pigs.
It was then he “came to his senses.” Although while several end up in the pig pen, coming to ones senses does not necessarily follow. But he followed through on resolve to submit himself as a servant to his father.
In what I believe is one of the most beautiful pictures of God in all of scripture, his father was not just waiting for him, but actively looking for his son. He does not punish him by giving the son the role of a servant, but restores him as his son and celebrates.
For people of faith it is a powerful reminder that even when we purposely walk away, God does not give up on us.
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.