The Prodigal Son

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

In being filled with righteousness and meekness, you will temper your zeal for righteousness with mercy, and in turn, will be shown mercy.


compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.


kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard”  (Prov. 21:13). The merciful show rachamim, a word that comes from the word “rechem”, the Hebrew word for “womb.”  To have compassion then means to express pity as we have for the love of an unborn child.  The quality of compassion is called rachamanut.  Beyond this, mercy involves empathy and love expressed for the miserable.  “The righteous shows mercy and gives” (Psalm 37:21).  Sacrificial love is the practice of mercy.

I have some hangups with mercy.  I struggle with a paradox.  When I think of God’s mercy to me, I think of the dictionary definitions.  God’s mercy is not something I’ve earned or deserve.  I deserve a karmic response from the Universe.  I deserve the full consequences for my actions, and yet when I reach out to God for mercy I receive it.  It doesn’t mean that there is no consequence, but it does mean that God will make something merciful out of it.

But when I think of mercy which I give, I think of the compassion, the rachamim, which describes.  I see someone who is in suffering, who is in need of mercy, and my heart goes out to them.  I don’t think they deserve punishment.  They need mercy.

But do you see the relationship between the two?.  In giving mercy, I do not see that the recipient deserves to be punished, all I see is the suffering.  Yet, when it comes to receiving mercy, I do not see myself as suffering in need of mercy.  I see myself as deserving my suffering.  What I want to suggest is when God sees us suffering, he does not see someone who deserves punishment, he sees someone in need of mercy.

But are we always merciful?  Not if we are not hungering and thirsting for righteousness. When we receive the blessing of having been filled or satisfied in justice, we will become merciful.  Remember, we are not seeking righteousness to further a moral code, we are seeking it on behalf of those who are suffering from injustice, which is an act of mercy.  And when we show mercy, we set in motion a new karma;  a new cause and effect.  In showing mercy, we will receive it.



His ears and face were burning red. Why was he on the verge of tears? Was it fear or shame? Was it the thought of bearing his father’s disappointment? Poor kid. But the teapot…

The teapot had always been in my life. It was a great loss. I couldn’t even speak to him about it yet. It wasn’t that I was angry with him. Loss is just…loss. I could still see the bright green, ceramic teapot sitting on my grandmother’s stove. I could see her pouring out the afternoon tea. Feel the steam on my young face.

It didn’t matter whether or not he’d been careless. I just needed to look at it for a moment trying to imagine how it could be repaired. He would have my forgiveness soon, but first the loss. What would my mother say if she saw it lying here in pieces? That it didn’t matter? That Grannie didn’t really like this teapot that much anyway? That accidents happen? Probably.

“Come help me clean this up, ok?”

He didn’t look at me. I could tell he was trying to hide his reddened cheeks and teary eyes from me.

As we collected the broken pieces, I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled his face up to mine.

“Hey, accidents happen. Don’t take it so hard.”

In my own voice, I could hear my mother’s and her mother’s. It was ok.


The father in this story was not angry at the son for his carelessness, but he was upset about the loss of an important object.  The son was suffering.  Perhaps he feared retribution.  Perhaps he simply understood that his carelessness had upset his father.  Either way, the father may have rightfully yelled at him; punished him.  But the father did not see a guilty child needing punishment.  He saw a suffering child needing mercy.  He showed mercy when he placed his hand on his shoulder and said “Hey, accidents happen.  Don’t take it so hard.”

And isn’t God a good father?  Don’t you think that God sees us suffering from our mistakes just as the father in this story saw his son suffering?  The son was remorseful.  He was open to mercy.  Perhaps if he’d been willful and unrepentant the father might have withheld the mercy.  I do not know.  I cannot say with certainty if God’s mercy is dependent on our repentance.  I’ve received untold mercies which sustained me through reckless and unrepentant periods of my life, but I can say that I have never regretted showing mercy to someone.  Well, you may say, some people deserve what they get, and that is true on the surface, but if you look a little deeper, if you look for the righteousness in that person’s life you will find the suffering.  Suffering may not excuse poor behavior, but that suffering is the part of a person that needs rachamima compassion that we feel for an innocent.

And in experiencing mercy, we will find another virtue:  purity.


  1. When and why have I withheld mercy?
  2. When have I received mercy?
  3. What is standing in the way of mercy in my life?


Merciful God, fill me with a desire for righteousness for the suffering that I might show mercy to them.  Amen.


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