Forgiveness and mercy



Listening to the readings during Lent, I noticed that most of them focus on repentance and forgiveness. In the prodigal-son story, the younger sibling recognizes his faults, repents of them and decides to beg his father for mercy. Without hesitation – and, in fact, before the son asks – his father runs across the field to embrace his wayward child and later throws an elaborate party of feasting, music and dance to celebrate his son’s return. It is a heartwarming scene depicting the joy that emanates from both repentance and forgiveness.

However, as in many stories, there is a glitch. The older brother is angry. He explains to his father, “Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15: 29). The eldest then refuses to join in the festivities. More importantly, he will not forgive his brother’s misdeeds nor his father compassion. In fact, the older brother, due to his own sinfulness and pride, is actually the person now in need of forgiveness. His behavior is reminiscent of the Pharisees. While “following his father’s rules,” he has forgotten Jesus’ most important instruction, “…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col 3:13).

The older brother struggles with an anger we all face at times. Why is he irate? Shouldn’t he be thrilled to have his younger brother home? Well, first of all, due to his self-righteousness, he is blind to his own faults. While his sins are certainly not as serious as those of his younger brother, his behavior indicates that he harbors resentment and envy. Similar to him, doesn’t our pride keep us from acknowledging our faults while pointing out the frailties of others.

Is he envious of the love his father shows his fallen brother? Does he expect to be loved more based on his acceptable behavior? Like him, it can be difficult for us to realize that God’s love shines equally on everyone – saint or sinner. God does not love us less because of our failures.

Possibly, in the case of the older brother, greed is involved. After all, the repentant son did squander away his entire inheritance. Does that mean that the elder must now share with this sinner what he feels he rightfully deserves? How often do we resent sharing our hard-earned gains?

I once read, “Anger, even righteous anger, destroys.” That statement proves true when we throw up walls of resentment instead of building bridges of compassion. As stated in Ephesians, “Be angry, but do not sin…do not leave room for the devil” (4: 26-27). Anger in itself is not wrong. It is an emotion as human as love, sorrow, joy or fear. But like all emotions, it must be controlled. Proverbs states, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end” (29:11).

Recently, I was watching “60 Minutes.” David Isay, a journalist concerned about the divisiveness in our society, was asked what he felt caused this problem. His answered that media and social media, which thrive on ratings and ratings, seem to soar when there is controversy and tragedy. What does that say about society?

Deciding to encourage a change, he introduced a new program, “One Small Step.” He invites two people of opposite political views to meet across a table while being recorded. Each reads the other’s short autobiography aloud. Then they share concerns and thoughts about events in their lives and the world. During this exercise, the participants discover that, in spite of their differences, they hold many values in common. It is an eye-opening experience; and the key is a willingness to listen.

Imagine what might have happened if the elder son had embraced his brother and said, “I have missed you and am grateful to have you home.” Then, arms around the others’ shoulders, they joined the celebration. Their father’s joy would have been doubled. Our Father’s joy does the same every time we also show compassion. Praise God from whom all mercy flows.

Kristine and her husband Jim Schroeder are members of St. Boniface Parish. They have 4 grown children and 23 grandchildren.