Mercy, forgiveness, and Grace are common themes that often run hand and hand through the stories in the Bible. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is one of them. The ungrateful, rebellious son takes the hard earned inheritance of his father and runs to the big city and wastes it. He ends up living in hunger and poverty alone as an alien in a foreign land. When he returns he expects to be judged, but he gets mercy. He does not get what he deserves. Instead he receives Grace. The father lavishes his love and wealth on his son again. The older brother still relates to his father out of “justice.” He argues how unfair it is the father throws a party for the rebellious son while the faithful one doesn’t get one. The father reminds his older son about the need to forgive and restore this wayward child to his rightful place in the family. There is something within each of us that tends towards justice rather than mercy and grace.

I often wonder what the older brother was doing and thinking while his younger sibling was off living the good life in the big city. From his response upon his brother’s return, I think it would be fair to say that he wasn’t standing by the gate, longingly looking towards the city, praying for and waiting for the return of the prodigal, like we sense the father was. No he was more likely fretting over being left at home to do all the work. He may even have been jealous of his brother’s riotous living. Both the prodigal and his brother expected “justice” not mercy. But we understand that the attitude of the Father toward the prodigal is the attitude Jesus calls us to have for those who have harmed us, offended us, rebelled against us, or in any other way might deserve retaliation.

Isaiah 30:18 says that God “waits to be gracious to you.” But when we are alienated from God we run and hide from Him because we believe he “waits” to be condemning of us, to bring us the judgment we deserve. We expect that attitude because we often carry that attitude as it relates to others. When the nation of Israel turned their back on God, Hosea said that this was the attitude they had. He writes in 13:6-7, “…but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.” The word translated “lurk” is the same Hebrew word in Isaiah 30:18 that is translated “wait.” But the point is they viewed God as the God judgment, not of mercy and love and grace. He is waiting just to pounce on us like a lion. But like the father of the prodigal son, God is always waiting for us, not to judge, but to be gracious to us.