Balancing mercy and justice
THEY MET IN his father’s office the following morning, as the help cleared up from the big party.
“That was a wonderful evening, Dad. Thanks for everything.”
“You're welcome, son. It was so good to be able to celebrate. I'd waited a long time.”
The silence wasn't quite awkward.
“So, what's next for you?”
The young man twiddled the ring on one finger. “I'm not sure. Do you think there's something for me here?”
“Of course,” the old man answered with a smile, opening his hands. He spoke of a junior management position in the family business. “There'd be opportunities for advancement, on merit,” he said. Pause. “But there wouldn't be a board place; you understand that, right?”
The old man went on to point out there would be challenges—staff and other management alike might resent him. He'd have to prove himself to them.
“I love you son, and I am glad you are home, but I have to be fair to everyone else, too.”
At least, that's how I think the story of The Prodigal Son might have played out after the big homecoming banquet.
Because the reality is that while restoration puts things back the way they were, that doesn't necessarily mean everything. Forgiveness relieves us of the weight of wrongdoing, but we may still have to carry some of its results.
The rebellious son of Jesus’s parable in Luke 15 may have thought he had a shot at some sort of position back in the family business, as his welcome home gifts included that ring, a sign of authority.
But that opportunity would likely be limited because his father wasn't in a position to offer just anything, even if he had wanted to. The young man had already had what was due to him, squandering his inheritance in Vegas.
Remember that in talking to his older son, who skipped the reunion party because he was irritated that kid brother seemed to get off Scot-free, the father acknowledged to his first-born, “all that is mine is yours” (verse 31).
In other words, while the prodigal's original relationship was restored, his circumstances were probably not, and his secondary relationships likely still needed some work.
And isn't that true in our Christian life as well? In Jesus, we are restored to relationship with our heavenly Father. Yes, He can and does work miracles, but sometimes we have to live with the consequences of our past actions, materially and relationally.
We don't always get back everything that we threw away, regardless how often people partially quote the promise of Joel 2:25 that God will “restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” (NKJV).
Sometimes we are left in the balance where His mercy to us meets His justice for others.
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