In Luke 15, three very well known parables of Jesus are recorded. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (or sons). In each story, there is something of value which is lost and then found. Of all the stories, the longest and richest is the story of the prodigal son. Perhaps you have read this story and at times resonated with the prodigal son, or perhaps at other times, you know what it is like to feel like the older brother.
The hero of the story is of course the father (who is God). The one who welcomes his wayward son back, despite his offensive and disrespectful behaviour. What is significant for me is the primary emotion of the father when he sees his son for the first time.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
I am sure there were many emotions and reactions available to the father at that moment. I am sure that there were other emotions the father would have felt, like anger, disappointment, but it was compassion which he is known by. This is completely different to his other son, who was angry and indignant at the welcome his younger wayward brother had received.
This is not the only time God is described as compassionate. We find it over and over again in Scripture. In Psalm 103:8 we are told, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” When Jesus feeds the 5000 we are told he saw the crowds and had compassion on them. When the people of Israel fail God, he responds with compassion.
This raises the question for us. What emotion am I primarily known by? What about you? In any moment, like the father in the Prodigal Son story we have a range of emotions available to us. What will we choose to be known by? Anger. Frustration. Fear. Resentment. Compassion.