On Sunday, I shared a well-known story with our congregation.
“There was a man who had two sons.”
Two boys, younger one says “I want my inheritance now” and off he goes and wastes the lot. Wine, women and song. When the money runs out, so do the friends. The younger son is left in such a terrible state he ends up looking after the pigs
Eventually, he comes to his senses and heads for home
Dad hasn’t given up hope and spends his days watching the horizon for young son to come again. And as he sees the younger son on the horizon he rushes out to greet him and welcome him home. They throw a huge party! Everyone is happy, except the fatted calf and the older brother who has some uncomfortable things to say to his dad.
Jesus then leaves the story hanging in mid air
It is almost like he is throwing out a challenge to his hearers and to us “Who are you in this story?”
Are you like the older brother? diligent, faithful, trustworthy and yet what have you got out of it? How do you respond to those you are “not like me” when they receive the news of God’s kingdom and accept it?
Or perhaps you identify more with the prodigal?
Let’s face it, we have all known those people who have made an absolute mess of their lives. We know those who seem to have had it all and blown it. We know those who have walked away. A few years back, many churches became involved in praying for the prodigals in this longing to see those people who had just drifted from Church fellowships to return. Maybe there are the prodigals in your family, amongst your friends that you are praying for that you long to see brought back into a kingdom relationship with God.
Maybe you have been the prodigal. One post that I saw on facebook recently that made me smile said
If the grass is greener on the other side that’s probably because it is fake
Henri Nouwen said;
“I am a prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”
As I unpacked this story that I have preached on countless time over the years, I found that this tale had a “sting in the tale” for me. This time, my focus was drawn onto the Father. He is the character that the whole story hinges on after all. One of the things that I like to do in preparation is look at different Bible translations. I am used to seeing the title “The Prodigal Son. One of the translations I looked at called it “The Merciful Father”. I think that is a wonderful title because it re-focuses where our attention on the mercy of the Father, whether we are the older brother or, the prodigal his mercy is available for us. Henri Nouwen again says
“the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper again in my ear: ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.’”
And that is true for each of us because our heavenly Father is rich in mercy. It doesn’t matter what we have done or failed to do in life the moment we turn to God His arms are outstretched to us because He is rich in mercy.
God’s mercy is incredibly powerful. We often confuse the idea of mercy and pity but, they are not the same thing at all. God’s mercy can be described as restorative mercy because it brings life and freedom. It brings hope and grace. John Paul II In his letter “On the mercy of God” says this;
This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value”
Mercy has restorative power.
Now, here is the sting!
In Luke 6 Jesus talks loving those who have hurt us, loving those who have persecuted us and then He goes on to say;
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(Luke 6 vs. 36)
You see through this parable there is the challenge for us to not only be receivers of mercy but, to show mercy. If I am honest with you, sometimes find this difficult. I am not the sort of person who holds grudges, life is too short. But, when somebody has done me wrong, I want them to come to me and apologise. I want them to make the first move toward restoration. The Father in the parable doesn’t wait Luke 15 vs. 20;
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
(Luke 15 vs. 20)
The Father makes the move. Can I do that, can I go the extra mile? Can I embrace those who have hurt me? Some of those hurts that life has thrown at me run very deep indeed yet, can I be merciful just as my Father in heaven is merciful?
I needed to spend some time quietly with God and I needed to open my heart to Him and share with Him some of my hurts and pains. I found that, as I did, God’s arms were open wide and I felt the power of His embrace.
Is there something or someone you need to bring before God, why not take this opportunity to talk to Him?