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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Thursday, September 30

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.”
—Luke 15:11-13

“But that’s not fair,” my student protested, upset that I was giving one of her classmates an opportunity to raise his grade. Frankly, I was puzzled. Hadn’t this student done well on her last assignment? Hadn’t she always done well?

The point, of course, was that her classmate’s second chance somehow devalued her own high score—or so she seemed to think. As the teacher, however, I cared far more about her classmate’s lack of skill than about her wounded pride; my letting him rewrite an essay was simply my way of helping him to learn.

Unfortunately, this debate is one that comes up almost every year. And every time it does, I find myself thinking of Romans 5:20: “[W]here sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

This tenet seems to apply in the Parable of the Prodigal Son as well. The younger of two brothers, the “prodigal” or wasteful son had taken his inheritance and spent it in “dissolute living” —the first century equivalent of using drugs, gambling, paying for prostitutes, and driving fast cars, all at the same time. 

Not surprisingly, his money soon ran out and he found himself living on the street. He had to take any job that came along, even if it meant slopping pigs, an abhorrent thought for a Jew. Realizing that he’d hit bottom at last, the younger son “came to himself” and decided to return home; ultimately he valued his life more than his pride.

The father’s response was like that of any worried parent. Ecstatic to see him alive, the father ran out to meet his son, ordering his slaves to bring out the finest clothes and to prepare the most elegant meal. Later, when the celebration was well underway, the older son came home, surprised to hear music and dancing. 

Having asked one of the servants what was going on, and learning that the party was in honor of his dissolute younger brother, the older son became irate. Where was his celebration, he wanted to know. Why was his father rewarding one son’s bad behavior while failing to commend the good behavior of the other? Clearly, the father had much to explain.

When he was confronted, however, the father clarified his reasoning in this way: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” His rationale makes perfect sense—and yet I understand the older son completely. I am the older son.

Learning to be gracious in the face of grace—especially when the recipient is someone else, someone who may or may not “deserve” it—isn’t easy. In an economy of good works and just desserts, grace is indeed illogical. But mercifully for us, it is also very much in the nature of God. Whether he realized it or not, the older son needed that grace every bit as much as his brother. 

And fortunately for him, it was there.

O God, let me not begrudge your mercy to those in need of your grace, and let me not be blind either to the needs in my own life or the grace through which you fill them.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2005.