I have often found it easier to fit into the shoes of the prodigal son than the shoes of the older brother. Yet in this well-known parable of Jesus, both sons are invited to celebrate and rejoice. To the prodigal child who had squandered and defamed, God’s grace is lavish. It is extravagant and poured out on those who neither expect it nor deserve it. The celebration is thrown in honor of the run-away, in honor of the return of just one lost sheep. When these shoes are ours, we are both humbled by the Father’s attention and compelled by His mercy.
Yet to the child on the other side of justice, the Father’s grace is jarring and disruptive. It is lavish, but wastefully so. His invitation to the feast is both awkward and demanding, a seeming call to overlook the potential of our reckless brother to strike again at our expense. These shoes are much harder to walk in. The Father’s call to forgive the one whose sincerity is questionable is often agonizing; his command to love the habitual prodigals in our midst is both costly and exhausting.
But it is Christ’s request. “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” asked Peter. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).
God’s grace disrupts our sense of righteousness and summons us to respond in a similar way. Whether we find ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal or treading the difficult ground of the older brother there is good reason to rejoice and celebrate the unveiling love of the Father. God’s unfathomable grace and mercy shatter our sense of who is worthy to enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom, inviting us to the celebration regardless of where, and in whose shoes, we stand.