“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” …
How often do we think, “She’s getting what she deserves!” We look at the poor choices others make, as we sit comfortably at a safe, uninvolved distance, passing heartless judgments on those who suffer the predictable consequences of their reckless lives. Sometimes, we even enjoy witnessing the misfortune of the careless and the downfall of the foolish. The overdosed junkie. The pregnant teenager. The two-bit criminal whose mugshot splashes across the local news. Too bad. Oh well. Getting what they deserve, I suppose.
That’s just what Jesus wants us to think at this point in the story. The younger son, after demanding his share of the family estate and flushing it away on parties and prostitutes, has to grovel in the mud with pigs, starving and pathetic. Good riddance to the good-for-nothing young man. Jesus wants us to think those heartless thoughts because that really is how we look at the downfall of others, and if we can be really honest, that’s how we hope God looks at those sorts of people too. Shouldn’t a just and fair God punish sinners and send hardship on fools? That’s the sort of divine retribution we can understand and applaud, and Jesus knows we all have a cruel corner of our hearts that enjoys watching bad people get what they’ve got coming.
Without giving away the rest of the parable, you should know that this story is about grace and that, while we can identify with each of the three main characters, Jesus wants us first and foremost to see ourselves in the younger son. It’s easy to cheer for justice to be meted out against others whose sins we consider so gross, but when we catch a glimpse of our own faults, when we see in ourselves the same sort of foolishness that we have condemned in others, we may start to reconsider the cold reality of strict justice. When we stand accused, we don’t want to get what we deserve. That’s when we give thanks for God’s grace that saves sinners like us, grace that can even save people who squander their lives in wild living and find themselves in the mud with no one to give them anything, except our gracious God and Father.
Father of Mercy and Grace, You lifted me out of the mud of sin and hopelessness. You gave me new life through Jesus. Teach me to see others through Your gracious eyes and to join Jesus in offering hope and salvation to people in need. I pray in my Savior’s name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian