Once There Were Two Sons and a Monk

I love detective shows. I’ve always been fascinated with the likes of Matlock, Perry Mason, and Columbo. The mystery, intrigue, and suspense they present are irresistable, at least to me. I have also come to love another detective show that has captured my attention, Monk. “Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub – pictured above) was once a rising star with the San Francisco Police Department, legendary for using unconventional methods and out-of-the-box thinking to solve some of the department’s most baffling cases. But after the tragic (and still unsolved) murder of his wife, a devastated Monk became obsessive-compulsive. Now plagued by various phobias, almost everything causes him angst: germs, heights, crowds – even milk. His condition eventually cost him his job, and continuously poses unique challenges as he goes about his daily life.” He is an unlikely hero. Think of Sherlock Holmes with the personality of Rain Man. He has an amazing ability because of his extraordinary attention to detail. Other detectives see what Monk sees, but they don’t see what he sees. Monk sees the world, an ugly world, like a child sees something for the first time.

Monk, in the second to last episode of Season 3 – “Mr. Monk and the Election”, says something that got me thinking. In this episode, Monk’s new assistant, Natalie, becomes a candidate in the upcoming school board election because her daughter’s school was about to be closed as a cost-cutting measure. Natalie’s frustrations with a jammed photocopier and other defective equipment bought at a police auction are dwarfed by fear for her life when a sniper fires into her campaign headquarters, further damaging the equipment and killing a security guard. The sniper also left a note demanding Natalie leave the election. Suspicion falls on Natalie’s opponent in the election, Harold Krenshaw, whom Monk knows as a fellow patient of Dr. Kroger’s (Monk’s therapist). Krenshaw also suffers from OCD but with slightly different characteristics.

In one scene, Monk and Captain Stottlemeyer are interrogating Krenshaw. Monk starts talking about Krenshaw to Stottlemeyer beforehand, “He has serious issues. He drives everyone he meets crazy.” In a scene soon after, Monk asks the question, “It’s not me, is it? Just tell me. Am I that guy? Am I that far gone?” Stottlemeyer then strokes Monk’s ego allowing him to think that he is, indeed, OK and reinforcing the idea that Krenshaw is the one who has the problems. Monk then says, “he will drive you crazy!” Monk also makes an interesting admission, “he wouldn’t have mis-spelled Natalie’s name because… because I wouldn’t…”

Jesus, in Luke 15:11-32, tells a parable of two sons who each had an abnormal relationship with their father. The first son is known as the Prodigal Son who set his love on everything but the father. In contrast, the second son is known simply as the Elder Brother who set his love on what he could get out of his father. Jesus was making the point that without living the Gospel functionally, we are left to living a life of overt enmity against God (e.g. Prodigal Son) or a life of seeking to earn God’s favor (e.g. Elder Brother).

We don’t like to explain our condition in these terms (enmity with God or seeking God’s favor) because we are blinded by the very sins we are functionally denying. The Elder Brother expressed the attitude of “I am better than you because I am moral” (functionally denying the Gospel) after hearing about why there was music and dancing. The Elder Brother then says to his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ In other words, the Elder Brother is essentially saying, “that Prodigal will drive you crazy! He devoured your property with prostitues, and you still killed a fattened calf for him! And look at me! I have obeyed you and followed your moral law but you never gave me anything!” The Elder Brother attitude always looks down at others, pointing out mistakes, faults, and sins to make themselves feel or look better than they really are. In the example of Monk, Monk looked at the faults of Krenshaw trying to make himself feel better for his inadequacies – “He will drive you crazy!!”

I often live life without living in the reality of the Gospel. I treat others on the basis of what I can get from them. I size people up by my own standard wondering if they can offer me anything in return. I love God, not simply because He first loved me, but because I am trying to gain the full acceptance I functionally don’t realize I already possess in Christ. I often find myself reacting to people in my heart with, “Look at his long hair! He must not be a Christian!” “That person does not have the hygiene habits I have!” “That person must be lazy and slothful to be that poor! If they had the work ethic I have, they would not be in that position!” “That crazy driver! He’s driving faster than me!” “This other person doesn’t know how to drive, look how slow they’re going!!” “Their theology is all skewed; they don’t truly understand Scripture like I do” “I practice Scripture better than they do.” I live life as if I do everything correctly, and thereby, use my standard of life as the measuring stick by which I measure everyone else’s lives. I live as if I am better than they, and they can learn a thing or three from me. I live by the moralistic mantra of the Elder Brother, “‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command,” and yet functionally, I don’t realize my righteousness is as filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6) and the righteousness I hold to, I don’t keep perfectly (Romans 2). I functionally deny that I am just like the Krenshaw‘s I am bashing.

Within both the Prodigal and the Elder Brother mindsets, love for God is absent. Only the Gospel can free us from the inordinate love of lesser goods to love God, the Ultimate Good, without seeking to earn anything from Him. It is by the power of the Gospel that we are put in right relationship with God and enabled to love Him for His own sake, for who He is in Himself. The Gospel says that “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). One reason God set His love upon us in this way was so that we might eternally participate in the Communion of Love which the Holy Trinity is (2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14). God’s breathtaking, all-satisfying love for us is the cause and impetus of our love for Him (1 John 4:19); and it is in the Gospel that we savingly and sanctifyingly see the love of God most clearly and experience it most fully. The Gospel frees us to love God not for what we can get out of Him but because of what He has already given us, namely, Himself.

The same basic thoughts apply to loving others. Only in the Gospel are we freed to love others not for what we can get out of them but because of what we already have—the full acceptance of God Himself. The Gospel is the only thing that frees us to love people without any strings attached. Without the Gospel our love for others becomes either moralistic (we love primarily because it is what we MUST do in order to be blessed by God) or consumeristic (we love in order to get something out of the person we are “loving”). At the core, the moralistic (i.e. Elder Brother mindset) and consumeristic (i.e. Prodigal mindset) motives for loving are essentially the same. Both ways of loving are motivated by what can be received from the person(s) loved. Only the Gospel frees us to love not for what can be received, but because of what has already been received, namely, acceptance with God and participation in the Trinity’s all-satisfying, God-glorifying Communion of Love.

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