One of the many questions I presented in the sermon yesterday was, “How do we live with others who let us down?” That’s the dilemma of each character in yesterday’s parable (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son let the father and the older son down with his departure and wastefulness. The older son let the father and younger son down with his refusal to forgive the younger son’s decisions and celebrate his return. The father let the older son down by being quick to forgive or by being overly generous or by giving the younger son what he hadn’t given the older one (or some combination thereof).
The parable seems to indicate that a risky, wasteful, generous act such as the father’s is how we live with others who let us down. Remembering that this is a parable, not a parenting seminar, there are surely times when that’s not the best way to handle relationships. Life is more complicated than one parabolic strategy.
I did wonder, though, as Rev. Pietila narrated the story to the children, how startling it would be to return to a party, rather than a scolding after living so foolishly. For some people, that might encourage more foolish decisions. We’ve seen that. For others, however, maybe that would awaken within them a sense of security and love, fostering a deep gratitude, and leading to a renewed commitment to doing right by the father, family, and farm. Maybe part of the wastefulness of mercy such as that is the trial and error that comes with it, always praying for a good outcome.
God seems willing to be wasteful in the ways of the father in the parable, certainly so merciful as to love us whether we’re dutifully on the farm or squandering gifts in “dissolute living.” God is ready to forgive and welcome us home with a celebration any day. This coming Sunday, whether we’ve been the kind of disciples we aspire to be or wandered away from the path, we’ll be welcomed to the Table and encouraged to celebrate love and mercy that cost Jesus his body and blood, sparing our souls for eternity.
So, how do we live with others who let us down? By looking to the one who prayed that we’d be forgiven while he was still on the cross, by reflecting on his stories about a merciful father and a compassionate Samaritan, by remembering the love and mercy we are continually shown (though we be unworthy) and by continually seeking to show it, by showing “tough love” when absolutely necessary and showing “prodigal love” whenever possible.