Young Guido Brunetti was playing Hide & Seek with his friends in the calle (narrow street) in Venice when he decided to hide under the canvas cover of a boat moored near his home. Waiting to be found, in the early Spring sunshine, he soon fell asleep. He was awakened suddenly by a desperate high pitched voice calling his name – it was his mother. The author of the story continues –
‘At the sudden sight of her amidst his friends, Brunetti saw the gray in her hair for the first time and noticed how very poorly she was dressed, with a patched apron and sweater darned at both elbows. For the first time in his life seeing her there, in front of his friends, Brunetti felt ashamed of her, and then of himself for feeling this.
When she saw him, his mother came to the edge of the riva and reached down a hand to help him scramble back up. Her grip was firm, and he was surprised that she could so easily haul him up beside her.
He had seen the looks on the faces of his friends. To be guests of her hospitality was one thing, but to see her out here, dressed for the kitchen and screaming her son’s name … that was quite different. What would they think of him? And of her?
He stood in front of her, head bowed, almost as tall as she, and muttered ‘I fell asleep Mamma. I’m sorry.’
He saw her right hand move, and he stood rigid, fearing the blow he knew he deserved. Instead she ruffled his hair and said ‘Then it’s a good thing I came and found you, isn’t it tesoro, or else you might have been baked like a chicken in the oven down there and no one knowing what was happening to you.’ She waited for him to respond, perhaps to laugh, but he was paralysed by love and unable to speak.
Taking his hand in hers, she turned and led him back towards home, inviting all his friends to come back with them and have a piece of cake she had just pulled out of the oven.’ *
When I read this story, which is in fact the memory of a Detective in a crime novel, I was immediately struck by the parallel between this mother and her son and between God and us.
Her son is lost. The moment she heard he was missing she left home in search of her beloved child – not caring in the least at the stares of neighbours as she shouted his name. Her search is urgent – driven by concern, love and compassion.
Her sleeping son is unaware of his danger – lost with no idea that he is. When he is suddenly alerted to his predicament by the desperate calls of his mother his alarm is mixed with relief. His anticipation however is of punishment – but to his utter amazement he discovered a love which, in all likelihood, he had never appreciated before. And it is in the light of this that the author uses the beautifully descriptive term of his reaction – ‘he was paralysed by love’.
Like so many, the young Brunetti is blindsided by love at the very moment he fully expected to be punished. And in that moment all negative thoughts of his mother evaporated – he was dumbstruck.
I think also this lad had hitherto seen his mother the way we sometimes see God. His mother’s place was at home – in the kitchen. He was comfortable with his friends seeing her there and being ‘guests of her hospitality’. God’s place of course is in the decorum of a church setting. But to see Him outside – on the street corners – in the gutter with the alcoholic and prostitute – well that’s another matter.
But the lost son had been found! He has been restored in love! And the invitation to all his friends is to join them back home where the freshly baked cake would be shared by all. We could equally say – ‘He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.’ (Luke 15:24 NLT)
My Bible tells me that it is the ‘goodnesses of God’ that leads to true repentance (Romans 2:4) – I sometimes wonder if there is any other kind. What is certain is this – only the goodness of God will ever leave us paralysed by love.
*The Golden Egg – Donna Leon