Bringing hope where there is despair
We have some very well-known stories in our bible – stories that many of us are familiar with. The Forgiving Father is one such well-known story (Luke 15:11-32). You probably know it better as The Prodigal Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal and his Brother, or The Lost Son. The son is the key focus for the story, and it takes a lot for him to realise where he might be better off, however, it is actually the father who demonstrates the critical loving behaviour. The way the Father behaves is in direct contrast to the older brother, who knows that his younger brother has behaved in an unforgivable way and taken some of the inheritance that the older brother was entitled to.
In the work that happens every day at Whitechapel Mission we have similar stories going on. There are people who have behaved in seemingly unforgivable ways, often giving scant regard for the impact it has had on their family and friends. Of course, many in our society would say that they deserve what they have got, they will have to pay for the consequence of their actions, and that they should get themselves a job, and sort themselves out.
Some of our guests have realised that they are better off if they could only be given a chance. At Whitechapel, as a community of people trying to help, we are definitely in the “second-chance” business. Somehow we have to adopt the attitude of the Forgiving Father rather than the Older Son. Of course this is a challenge. We have seen many people in similar situations, and it can be difficult not to generalise a certain type of approach to people who have come to ask for help. We know the challenge many face with addiction and not enough resources to make a proper attempt to “have another go”. But, one of the things that people who come constantly repeat is that Whitechapel Mission is different from many places where they go to seek help. The staff and volunteers at Whitechapel Mission are not driven by achieving targets. They have the freedom to act in loving support. Maybe that’s what makes the difference. We know that “second-chance” is often not the end of the story. In the work of helping people, “another chance” would be a much better phrase to use, as the path to restoration and forgiveness often means an openness to multiple encounters (Jesus offered some advice on how often we should do this 70 x 7)
Of course, the parable of the Forgiving Father ends in an encounter of reunion and forgiveness between the Father and the Younger Son (you will probably have noticed that there was no such conclusion to the encounter with the Elder Son – either with the Father or the Younger Son).
At this time of year, as we look forward to the coming of Jesus, all of us would do well to remember that through Gods loving and forgiving response to all people, Jesus offers us all “another chance” that we would not be condemned by our behaviours and our judgements to the consequences. I know that when I am fully aware of this, it really helps me to respond to those who ask for help, by behaving like the Forgiving Father rather than the Older Brother. I am also sure that there really is joy in God’s heart when those who have asked for another chance are offered a truly loving response.
Every blessing for the season of Advent and Christmas, and a blessed New Year
Grace and Peace. John.
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