But while the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20
My grandma was a poet. A couple of months ago, my mom found a poem she’d written (who knows when!) addressed to me. It was an apology for an event I don’t even remember – a time she’d scolded me, evidently, for losing something. The content of the poem surprised me. My memories of Grandma are all smiles and warmth. But something I’d done had upset her, and I guess she didn’t feel great about how she’d reacted. And baked right into her poem of apology was also an offer of forgiveness: it was obvious that whatever I’d lost way-back-when was much less valuable to her than our relationship.
Today’s passage from Luke comes from the Parable of the Lost Son. It’s the ultimate story of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. When we read this parable, sometimes we identify with the lost son who’s messed up and is seeking forgiveness; and sometimes we identify with the father, who forgives everything because he’s just so happy his child is home. (Sometimes we even identify with the older son, who did all the right things, and still sees his brother getting all the attention). Wherever you find yourself in this parable, the message about forgiveness is the same: whether you’ve sinned or been sinned against, forgiveness is always the goal. It’s what God gives us, what God wants for us, and what God instructs us to give. The state of our relationships with God and with people matter. This parable reminds us of some simple, essential truths: 1) We sin, and by God’s grace, we are forgiven. God loves us and nothing we do limits that love. 2) Because we have been forgiven, we must – we get to – imitate God by forgiving people, too. It’s the only fitting response.
Grandma’s poem reminds me of the beauty of both sides of the coin. She sought forgiveness and she offered it. This receiving and giving of grace is what God wants for our lives. We’re called to be like the lost son and like the forgiving father. May this sink in for you today. May you stand confidently in the knowledge that your heavenly father forgives you completely, and treasures your return to him. And may that knowledge cause you to overflow with forgiveness for the people in your life, also treasured by God.