We’re looking at the very well-known parable of the Prodigal Son this week. Our distance from the time and place of the original telling of it together with our familiarity with the story makes it possible for us to miss its impact. The son is telling the father he wishes him dead. It was expected a Jewish father would leave money for his family, so by spending all the money the son dishonours the father’s hard work and disgraces himself by having nothing left. Working with pigs in a far-off country is to make yourself “untouchable” to your own people. It would be like your child going to Melbourne and getting a job at Collingwood Football club cleaning the player’s boots. Quite unthinkable!

We can also miss what the father’s forgiveness looks like. It’s more than simply saying “I forgive you”. What the father does is completely restore the son to the family unit. He is brought back into the protection of the family, given rights to the land and given back the ability to call on the authority of the father. It’s like the son had not done any of the terrible things. We might call this a full reconciliation. Jesus wants us to see that when we turn to God with a contrite heart like the son, we are also forgiven. And in God’s eyes, forgiveness means God treats us like we’ve not done anything wrong in the first place. We too are fully reconciled back to God.

The problem is, we don’t always see forgiveness this way because our understanding of forgiveness is coloured by how we forgive. When we are called to forgive someone for their hurting us, do we completely wipe the slate clean? Do we put the other person into the position they were before the incident? Do we fully reconcile, or do we keep some part of the hurt with us to remind us what happened? I know I do this from time to time. So when we “forgive” like that, small wonder we see God’s forgiveness towards us in the same light. We think that God can’t really have forgiven us, and we carry this pain, this shame, with us and it drags us down. Let’s see forgiveness the way God does, and practice forgiveness the same way God does. Let’s work at fully reconciling the offender to the offended as though it had never happened. That way we find we can move forward free from our past hurts and failings and be the new creations we are called to be.

(Image Rembrandt – “The return of the prodigal son”)