In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells the story of a father who has two sons. The younger son asks for his portion of inheritance from his father, who grants this request. The son then squanders his fortune and eventually becoming destitute. As a consequence, he now must return home empty-handed and intends to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son’s surprise, he is not scorned by his father but is welcomed back with celebration and a welcoming party. Envious, the older son refuses to participate in the festivities. The father tells the older son: “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found.”
Many of us find sympathy with the older son. After all, who among us has not felt the sting of injustice? Here was the older son who had not left, who did everything right, and his father welcomes back his brother who did nothing but abandon the farm and waste his inheritance. Not fair, right? Right. Not fair.
But the parable isn’t about justice. It’s about love and forgiveness. All of us have been betrayed by someone: a parent, a child, a partner, a colleague, a community. We want to make it right, sometimes we want revenge, and always we want justice.
Justice comes in many forms. It might mean speaking truth to power. It might mean finding restitution. It might mean changing a system. And it might mean finding peace in your own heart — a justice for the soul. The father and the older son in the parable are looking at the prodigal son’s return through different eyes. The older son gazes through the eyes of retribution and the father through the eyes of forgiveness.
The author Phillip Yancey asks in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, “Do we want justice or forgiveness?” I don’t think the choice is so stark. We can have some justice and some forgiveness, but no justice is possible without some forgiveness. Just look at the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa after apartheid. Telling the truth about the atrocities was necessary for reconciliation to take place. Yet without the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, no truth telling would have been possible.
As Yancey says, “forgiveness is an unnatural grace.” It is not always what we expect that matters most but how our hearts are made right by our expectations that we can move on in love. That is the meaning of grace for me.
Yours Always, Rev. John