It’s Not About Fairness

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 

28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15: 25-32 ESV)


       When Jesus told this parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:1-3;11-32) there were sinners as well as religious people present.

In the parable there were two sons:  the younger son was the “bad boy” in the family. He asked for his inheritance and wasted it in wild living in some far country. 

But he turned around, humbled himself and sought his father’s forgiveness.  His father who had been waiting for his return forgave him and gave a party to celebrate his return.

The older son was the “good boy”.  He worked hard on the family’s farm and meticulously obeyed all his father’s wishes.  He never asked his father for any reward for his work, like having a party with his friends.

He therefore got angry when his father gave a party for “this son of yours”. For him his father was not being fair. It was him who deserved a party. 

As human beings we want to be treated with fairness and justice.  Even children insist on fairness when they play among themselves.

For the father, however, he simply loved both his sons – whether they were worthy of his love or not.  For him it was not a matter  of whether a son is “deserving” or not.  The important thing was that a son was lost but had been found.  It was not a matter of fairness. It was a matter of love and grace.

Grace has nothing to do with fairness or worthiness. It is love without conditions.  The older brother missed this truth; in a sense, he too was lost.

God deals with us with grace.  God does not deal with us as we deserve or repays us according to our offenses (Ps. 103:10).  On the cross of Christ God’s justice was met. Therefore for the sake of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection God forgives and forgets our transgressions. “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isa. 43:25) 

As God’s children, we too can think beyond the paradigm of fairness in our dealings with people; we can think in terms of the paradigm of grace.  Because we are born anew through our Baptism, and remain in Christ through the Word and the Sacrament, the Holy Spirit empowers us to do this. 

Prayer:  Gracious God, thank you for loving us even though we do not deserve it.  We praise You and magnify Your Name.  Amen.

Reflection:  Christian writer Henri Nouwen has said that at times we move from being the prodigal son to being the self-righteous son and vice versa.  Do you agree? Where are you now?

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