One of the greatest fears of my childhood was of getting caught doing something bad and having to face my dad. It’s not that he was extra mean or abusive, it’s just that I did not want to disappoint him, and this caused a knee-jerk reaction of fear whenever such situations would arise.
Probably the worst and stupidest thing I remember doing happened when I was a senior in high school hanging out with friends. We were roller-skating in the street and then decided to go to another friend’s house. I’d borrowed my dad’s car that night and jumped in and started driving with my skates still on.
As you might expect, there was an accident. Thankfully, it was just a fender bender. It could have been a lot worse, but knowing that the next day I’d have to tell my dad what I had done caused me a terrible, sleepless night full of fear and trembling.
After I showed my dad his dented bumper I was expecting to never leave my room unless I was doing all my siblings’ chores forever! But instead of getting the worst punishment of my life, I got something wholly unexpected: mercy.
Sure my dad gave me a talking to about how our lives are defined by our choices and this was not a good choice on my part. He asked me to think about the kind of person I was going to be, and that was it!
This story came to mind as I reviewed this week’s readings. Each passage tells of God’s mercy, whether it is God relenting on his plan to smite the Israelites, St. Paul reminding us that Jesus came into the world to bring God’s mercy or, most expressive of all, the loving father full of mercy and forgiveness welcoming the prodigal son home.
Benny Hester has a song about the prodigal son with a line that perfectly illustrates God and his mercy: “The only time I ever saw [God] run was when he ran to me, took me in his arms, held my head to his chest and said, ‘My son’s come home again.’”
This is one of my favorite images of God, running to us to deliver his mercy.