In Jesus’ story, the father looks on his repentant son with tenderness and demonstrates mercy toward him. The father actively forgives his son for squandering his fortune, and he restores the son to the family through acceptance, hospitality, and forgiveness. Tenderness opens the door to mercy; these actions heal a broken family; an unexpected justice results.
Although North American Christians often interpret the story as a tale of personal salvation—that God will save all those who throw themselves on God’s tender mercy—the global implications of the parable are more provocative. The son represents humanity who has squandered God’s treasures of the divine image within, of creation, of God’s shalom. Corporately, we need to throw ourselves at God’s feet, asking forgiveness for all the ways in which we have wasted our inheritance. God will, the parable assures, embrace us, and seeing us with such tenderness, act mercifully.This is the essence of justice. The parable illustrates the biblical hope that “mercy and justice embrace” (Psalm 85:10).
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