Lent 4 ~ Let’s Talk About Mercy

On March 16, 2016 by saintlukesgresham

Rev. Jennifer M. Creswell

What I’m going to do this morning is to offer a few reflections, and then invite you to share back. I’ll toss out some questions at the end of what I say, and if you want, you can respond from where you are.

What if the story had gone like this?

The father sees his younger son coming down the road. He never believed he’d see this day. He was heartsick over all the poor choices his son had made and worried that the boy would never grow up. He’s exhausted from his years of work and worry. Having given away his inheritance, all he owns is the land he farms. He has so much anger and resentment and hurt toward his boy that he closes the door, locks it, and waits inside with his wife and older son until the boy finally stops knocking and goes away.

What if the story had gone like this?

The older son loved his brother. They used to play, trick each other, talk to each other. They confided in each other and were at one in a world that sometimes felt it was against them. When the younger brother went away, the older brother couldn’t understand it. His brother hadn’t confided his plans—if he had any. The older brother didn’t know what could possibly tempt his sibling in the city. He’d never been interested in money, fame, bling. For the years his brother was away, the older son mourned. He fell into a depression. It was as if a part of him was missing. And then he sees his brother coming down the road. He rejoices! His friend, his companion, his brother is back! He wants to know what happened while his brother was away, but more; he just wants to be with his brother again. Part of him that was broken now feels whole. He runs to lay the table and make the feast.

What if the story had gone like this?

A couple raised two sons. As the boys grew, their parents taught them how to work their farm. The boys grew into young men and they eventually took over the farm and took care of their parents. The young men used the farm’s resources wisely and were generous with their parents. They all had more than enough.

What if the story had gone like this?

A young man left home. He’d grown up on a farm and he felt he knew all he could learn about farming and the country life. He knew there was more. Before he left, he asked his parents for money. They didn’t have a lot. They loved their son and wanted to give him what he asked for. So they took everything they had saved for their own retirement, divided it in two, and gave half to their son who was leaving. The other half they saved for his brother, the boy who was still at home. With a brief word of thanks, the young man walked away from his family. Finding himself in a city, he began to explore new things. He met new people, had new experiences, and spent his money. He was the master of his realm. Whatever pleased him, he did. After a while, the money ran out. Unpleasantly cold and hungry, the young man concluded that he needed to find work. Living and working on a farmer’s land, the young man tended pigs and fed himself by eating what the pigs left. He was too ashamed to go home.

What I’ve always loved about the Prodigal Son parable is that I can easily relate to all three main characters. It’s not a stretch to imagine myself the prodigal who takes what others have earned, runs with it, and uses it in my own ways. There are plenty of parallels, also, to the older brother who has been the “good” son, the rule-follower, the serious one. I’m an eldest child. This one is easy. And likewise, there are many situations where I rejoice over something I had thought lost.

The way the story is told, the young man’s father chooses mercy for his lost son. He had other choices. I’m faced with similar choices all the time. Not one of them is simple. Sometimes love means holding someone accountable for the hurt they’ve caused. Sometimes tough love is the only way someone will understand what they need to do to improve their own life. And sometimes love means throwing open the door and putting on a feast.

I want to ask you to talk to me about mercy. How have you experienced it as a giver or a receiver? How often are you aware of the choice to offer mercy? What’s the interplay of mercy and justice?

Amen.

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