Sometimes it takes years of reading to see the words. Even though the story is familiar and I’ve read the book, it was very moving to see this a couple of days ago.
In the middle of preparation for a Bible Study I usually do not teach, I noticed these words for the first time. Think about it. The son has wished his father dead by asking for his inheritance early, taken off with it and spent it on prostitutes. We can only assume he was not buying them dinner and a cup of coffee. He then runs out of money and finds himself in the midst of pigs – the definitive symbol for being unclean, inside and out, for a Jew. So he decides he would be better off as a servant of his father than in such a shameful position. With humility he heads back and his father sees him coming from a long way off (not insignificant in and of itself). And the father felt compassion for him.
You don’t feel compassion for people who are not hurting. Compassion is reserved for the hurting. You don’t feel compassion for someone with a new car. You feel compassion for those who just wrecked their car. Actually you are not as likely to feel compassion for them if they wrecked their car because they were drinking. The hurt has to be through no fault of their own.
To have compassion is to come alongside the hurting and hurt because of their hurt. The father feels compassion for the pain of the son – the son who wished him dead and squandered his money on prostitutes and now comes back to where he should have been glad to stay.
Phillip Yancey once wrote that we live in a world of “un-grace.” That statement has stuck with me for over a decade. It’s true. I’m a parent and the compassion of this father is still shocking to me. Heroic but shocking. The compassion of the Father for sinners who are hurting as a result of their sin is a shot across the bow of this world and all it’s un-grace.