Finally coming to his senses, he said, (…) I will get up and go back to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God, and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants.’ With that thought in mind, he set off for his father’s house. He was still a long way off, when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But the father turned to his servants: ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Bring out the finest robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Take the fattened calf and kill it! We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found!’ And the celebration began. Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. (…) He called one answered, ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration, and killed the fattened calf.’ The elder son became angry, and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. (…) The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.’”
“Everything I have is yours.”
In reading this beloved parable, we typically focus on the remorse of the prodigal son, and the gratuitous mercy of his father. But another aspect of the story comes into focus when we consider the context. Jesus tells this story in reply to the “muttering” of the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were scandalized by Jesus’ welcome to sinners. Their counterpart in the story is the “elder son,” who looks on resentfully at the abundance of the Father’s love. In this context the story of God’s mercy has a more polemical edge.
It’s message is not so much directed at sinners, assuring them of God’s love and forgiveness—but against the righteous, religious people who would draw a circle around God’s love, one that includes them but excludes everyone else. Jesus does not exclude them—“you are always with me and everything I have is yours”—but how can he fail to rejoice that one who was dead has come back to life?
There are many things to feel indignant about. But the mercy of God is not one of them. Indignant as we are, that mercy extends to us, as well.
© Copyright Bible Diary 2019