Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Return, ink drawing by Tobias Mayer, 2022 (with apologies to Rembrandt)

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

The gospels are brimming with stories of forgiveness—not just ordinary forgiveness but a radical, unconditional forgiveness such that can only stem from a place of absolute love. Jesus expresses this love in many stories and incidents, including the parables of the two debtors,1 the unforgiving servant,2 the adulteress,3 the pharisee and the tax collector,4 and even in his cry of forgiveness from the cross, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.5 Even those that plotted against, and ultimately murdered Jesus are not exempt from his forgiveness.

The return of the prodigal son is likewise a return to absolute forgiveness. The young man comes back expecting to be chastised and hopes only to be treated as a servant. The father offers him his best robe, a ring for his hand, shoes for his feet and kills the fatted calf to celebrate his return. There are no half measures, no questions asked or explanations sought. This is total forgiveness from a heart brimming with love. The lost lamb has been found, has returned to the fold.

In alcoholics anonymous there is a passage oft-quoted that describes beautifully the quality of such forgiveness:

"No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves."6

As unconditional as it is, this promise is not a monologue. Forgiveness is offered free, but to reap the benefits of the forgiving heart requires a relationship, requires the sinner to turn towards. The alcoholic surrenders control, admits defeat, turns towards; the prodigal son comes home. Relationship becomes possible.

"Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them."7

1 Luke 7:41:42
2 Matthew 18:23-35
3 John 8:1-11
4 Luke 18:9-14
5 Luke 23:34
6 Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84
7 ibid