“Celebrate Mercy” was the name of a Lock-in I helped run a few years ago. We chose as our Scriptural cornerstone for that event, the parable we read today in Luke. For today we’ll call it the parable of the Prodigal Son, though a friend has made a good case for calling it the parable of the jerk-face brother. Anyway, I digress, for the real hero of the story is the Good Father.
Our passage from Micah beautifully sets the scene for our hero, especially with the words that describe how God, “does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt.” This is the character of our God as we see Him further extolled in the Psalms. Micah is echoed, and the parable foreshadowed, in these words, “He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills … As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”
The character described above is the same as the Father who runs to his son and embraces him, casting his sin back into the far away country from which he came. This is the same Father who slaughtered the fattened calf to celebrate his son’s repentance and return. And now we come to the paradoxical part of this father and our God. The celebration of mercy comes not because God is blind to our sin, but because he knows it better than we do and knows how detrimental it is for us. He has watched us in the far-off land and then celebrates our repentant return. He sees this not as the wizening up of a foolish child, but as the resurrection of a dead man.
We can be grateful when people don’t know our vices. We can be thankful when someone chooses not to bring up our failings, but the Father delights in clemency and celebrates mercy. This can only happen if we can stare our sin in the face. This can only happen if God has intimate knowledge of our darkness because he has been staring into it waiting for us to turn around and catch his gaze.
This reality of God’s familiarity with our sin is evident in the earlier readings too. In Micah, God treads our guilt underfoot and casts our sin into the deep. In the Psalm He heals us while we are still ill and puts our transgression far from us. Finally, in the Gospel, he embraces us while we still carry the dirt of the road and smell like the pig sty from which we came.
We celebrate mercy, because God’s mercy is not an act of blind denial by a God who is ignorant or lying to Himself, No, it is the work of a God who can see through the darkness. The same is true for us. Unless we can recognize the darkness from which we are called, we’ll never fully celebrate the light we enter.