Even if we didn’t have the Old Testament, we would still know that God is merciful from the teachings of Jesus. The very motto of the year of mercy is from his lips: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” Jesus revealed the incredible Father’s mercy through not just one, but several parables, in particular, the prodigal son, the lost coin, and the lost sheep. These are found in Luke, which is dubbed the Gospel of Mercy. In each parable, rejoicing is the response to finding what was lost. Jesus says that the angels rejoice when just one sinner changes his or her ways and God forgives them.
Let’s look at the picture of God the Father that Jesus gives us in the parable of the prodigal son, more aptly called the parable of the prodigal father. The love of the Jewish father in the parable is extraordinary . . . prodigious. First, his younger son insults him by asking for his inheritance before the father dies. And the father graciously hands it over to him. The prodigal son squanders all of the money in sinful activities. He ends up with the humiliating job of feeding pigs, an animal that Jews considered unclean and a symbol of the Romans. The boy didn’t just lose his inheritance, but the dignity of being a son in his father’s house. Desperate and starving, he heads home, planning to offer to be a servant in his father’s house.
But the father sees him coming while he was still far off. The heartsick father must have been looking for him every day, waiting and hoping. At the sight of his son, the father is filled with compassion and runs to him. Running is not something a dignified Israelite would do. When the father reaches his son, he embraces and kisses him. The son begins his rehearsed speech, but the father cuts him off. He sends for the best robe and a ring and sandals for his wayward son. Then he orders a fatted calf slaughtered and throws a feast to celebrate. The older son, a righteous fellow, is miffed at the grand reception his dastardly brother receives. When he complains to the father, the doting father replies that his son was dead and is now alive. Why shouldn’t they celebrate? And isn’t this parable the story of humanity saved? Isn’t it our story?
(A teacher asked her young children, “Who felt bad about the son’s return?” and a child answered, “The fatted calf.”)
Jesus repeats the theme of this parable. A shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep and searches for a stray one until he finds it. He carries it home on his shoulders and calls everyone together to rejoice with him. A woman loses one of her ten silver coins. She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches until she finds the coin. She calls her friends and neighbors together to celebrate. (It’s interesting that a woman stands for God in this parable.) Then too there is the parable about the master who forgives his servant an enormous debt.
God is not only forgiving, but has mercy on us when we are in need. Jesus assures us that the same God who provides food for sparrows and beautiful raiment for flowers will also provide for us. God will answer our prayers. He is so merciful that, as Jesus points out, his sun shines and his rain falls on the just and unjust alike.
Of course, Jesus revealed God’s mercy most convincingly in his very self, the topic of next week’s blog.
In what ways has God shown you mercy?