Mercy is Always Unfair
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 145:8)
This past Sunday, my sermon focused on the story of the Prodigal Son. As I have been doing throughout Lent, I spoke in the first person as a character from this story, namely the "father who had two sons" as it says in Luke 15. As I spoke to the son who returned after wasting his inheritance on "dissolute" living, I tried to convey the love and understanding of the father as a reflection of the love and understanding God shows toward us all. And as the father of the older son who was unhappy that his wayward brother was being treated so well, I wanted us all to think about how sometimes we can get our own self-righteous knickers in a twist and forget, as I said, "mercy is not fair."
I have thought a lot about those words, "mercy is not fair." I wish I could remember where I heard it because I know I did not come up with it on my own. But it is so true. When I think of mercy, I think of being treated better than I deserve. I think of being forgiven for something I have done wrong when what I really deserved was a good scolding, or worse.
The father of the Prodigal Son showed mercy in welcoming him back into the family fold and then took it even further by giving his wayward son a ring, and a robe, and great party. Where is the stern lecture? Where is the probationary period where the son demonstrates his true remorse and earns back his family's trust? Where is the "I hope you've learned your lesson, young man" speech? Seriously, if anyone deserves some time in the proverbial (or literal) doghouse, it's him. I cannot blame the older brother for feeling the whole thing was unfair.
At the same time, I am pretty happy that mercy is so unfair because, as I said above, I have often been on the receiving side of mercy, too. As I read the Psalm quoted at the beginning of this reflection, I was reminded how mercy and steadfast love are often tied together when describing God. God's steadfast love drives God's mercy, and God's mercy flows out of God's steadfast love.
The challenge for all of us, I suspect, is to welcome God's mercy and steadfast love when it is extended to others just as much as we welcome these gifts when they are extended to us. Let us be thankful for God's mercy and steadfast love and offer the same forgiveness and kindness to others even when, in all fairness, the doghouse is really what is deserve.