Today’s reading is Luke 15:1-16:31.
I am once again reminded of the compassion God has given me and of the compassion I need to have for others.
For a long time, I’ve been enamored with the concept of “tough love.” Basically, what I thought that meant was if someone made their own bed, they had to lie in it. Sure, if someone through no fault of their own had a hard time in some area, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, spiritually, then I would be there to help them out of their tight spot. That is, of course, the loving thing to do. However, if their trouble was in their own doing, my job was to be like wisdom in Proverbs 1:26, and laugh at their calamity.
But then here is this story about a father and two brothers. This prodigal made his bed. He demanded his inheritance before the time. He wasted it on profligate living. He destroyed his own life. He comes back to his father. Will the father show tough love? Will he tell the son to pull himself up by the bootstraps and get out of his own mess he so willingly made? Will he accepts the son’s idea of being a servant and working his way out of it? That’s kind of an intermediate idea. “You have to work your way out of it, but I’ll help you get a job.” No. The father does none of these things. The father just shows love. He accepts the son back as his son. He shows mercy and grace.
The older brother, on the other hand, is livid. He’s all for tough love. “This son of yours” he calls the brother. He doesn’t deserve this. But of course not. If he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy and grace, would it? “He made his own bed. If he had been more like me, this wouldn’t have happened.”
I get two things out of this. I’m reminded that I am the prodigal. I’m not the son who stayed with the father the whole time (though, I think the older brother was not being honest with himself when he tried to claim he had always done what the father wanted, but that is another post). I’m the son who went into the far country, looking for meaning and fulfillment elsewhere. However, I never found it. Instead, I found things that left me broken and empty. I was eating pods with the pigs. I too came back to the Father with the idea that I could somehow be His servant, earning my keep. Then perhaps someday I could work my way up and deserve His love again…maybe. But, instead of demanding I earn my keep, He brought out the fattened calf and celebrated with me. He put a robe on my back and a ring on my finger and, because of His love, declared me His son. Wow! I needed that.
The second thing is I need to recognize that same thing with others. I’m a returning prodigal who has been shown mercy, grace and love. How can I show anything less to the other returning prodigals? Of course, I should not enable anyone to live in sin or continue with prodigal living. I should not be a codependent rescuer. That would be participating in their sin (Ephesians 5:11). If we keep the phrase “tough love” to mean we stay lovingly detached from those who want to stay in their problems and establish boundaries for our continued aid, then okay. But withholding mercy, grace, and aid from those who penitently seek it is not tough love. It is not love at all. We’ve all made our beds. If our Father forced us to lie in them, where would we be? If we do the same to our fellow returning prodigals, where would they be?
I am reminded of two things today. I have been shown great mercy. I need to also be merciful.
Keep the faith and keep reading,