But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
– Luke [15:32]
The parable of the Prodigal Son, narrated by Jesus in Luke [15:11]-32, stands as one of the most poignant illustrations of God’s unconditional love and the transformative joy found in reconciliation. In this story, Jesus extends a heartfelt invitation to embrace forgiveness.
The narrative unfolds with a younger son, impatient for his inheritance, taking his share and squandering it in a distant land on reckless living. When a famine strikes, he finds himself destitute, envying the food of pigs he is feeding as part of a job he has taken up. In this moment of desperation, he decides to return home, hoping for his father’s mercy, and ready to offer himself as a servant. Contrary to his expectations, his father, spotting him from afar, rushes to embrace him, celebrating his return with open arms. The father insists on marking the occasion with a feast, expressing joy that his lost son has returned to life. However, this celebration is met with resentment from the older son, who has remained faithful throughout. The father gently reminds him that all he has is already his, emphasizing the importance of celebrating the lost son’s return – once “dead,” now “alive.” This story encapsulates God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness.
Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” Such a perspective highlights that forgiveness is a perpetual practice, challenging as it may be when we feel wronged. Our egos bruise, we feel violated, and our emotions are wounded. Questions arise: How could they do this to us? Why do we deserve this? These feelings are undoubtedly valid, and the father in the parable had every right to feel hurt and betrayed. Yet, upon his son’s return, his response is one of joy.
Perhaps forgiveness is more about our healing than it is about the other person. Consider a life devoid of forgiveness; a journey marred by grudges and resentment. Inevitably, we will encounter individuals who wrong us – are we to isolate ourselves from all? What does a lack of forgiveness morph us into?
Lewis B. Smedes sheds light on this, stating, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Unforgiveness binds us within ourselves, hindering our capacity to transcend our limitations. While it does not mean we forget, Jesus calls us to forgive. The ones who caused us pain are on their journey, and denying forgiveness robs us of witnessing transformative moments of faith.
People’s journeys are tumultuous, filled with highs and lows. Jesus accompanies us through every twist and turn, guiding us towards righteousness. I believe there is an innate goodness in every person, though our actions may not always reflect this belief – a shortcoming on our part, not theirs.
Forgiving oneself is equally challenging. The inability to release past transgressions can tarnish one’s self-image, a struggle often mirrored in our capacity to forgive others. Yet, it is crucial to acknowledge the innate goodness within ourselves, just as we do in others.
Some may contest the idea of universal innate goodness, but Genesis [1:27] reminds us that we are all created in God’s image. While we all are created in God’s image, we still falter from time to time. But Jesus, in his sacrificial death, bore the weight of all human sin – the ultimate act of forgiveness. Even those we see as perfect have had transgressions. Yet we are not the judges, because Jesus bore all sin. Ours is to move forward with ourselves and others.
Emulating the Father’s forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son is undoubtedly challenging, but it is a journey toward liberation and healing. Forgiveness frees us from our internal prisons, ushering us into a state of renewal and peace.