When we were kids and were playing a game where we were asked to perform a certain task, if we messed up and didn't do it right, we would often ask for a "do-over". That meant that what we meant to do did not work out and we wanted another chance to get it right. Do-overs are something that all of us want in life because none of us is perfect and we often make mistakes. Do-overs fit right in with the Gospel message of forgiveness and renewal because Jesus taught that God is the God of second chances.
Most of us remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We remember that story about a younger son who asked his father for his inheritance and then he went to a far country where he wasted his inheritance "in riotous living". I love that phrase from the King James Version of the Bible because it describes perfectly what some people get involved in during their lives. Riotous living is the act of living with little care for tomorrow or its responsibilities. So, after the son had wasted all of his money, his friends were all gone (because all they wanted was a good time at his expense and once his money was gone so was their friendship) and he had to work to avoid starving so he hired himself out to a Gentile pig farmer where the corn pods he fed to the pigs actually started to look delicious to him.
This younger son finally came to his senses and decided to go home and face his father, asking to be treated as a servant because he knew he was not worthy to be called his son again. Can you picture that young man walking slowly toward the place where he grew up, totally ashamed of his actions and himself, thinking that his father would scold him and put him to hard labor to make him pay for his sinful actions? Can you picture him also, when he looked into the distance and saw his father running, not walking, toward him with his arms extended widely and a huge smile on his face? Can you see the young man gaze in amazement at his father, who now embraced him tightly and held him to himself? What a wonderful scene of reunion and joy!
The father was so excited to see his son, whom he had assumed had died, that he proclaimed a feast and dressed the boy in fine clothing. The only person who was not excited about all the festivities was the older son who resented the attention given to his younger brother. He refused to go into the feast but stayed outside and pouted.
When I was in seminary, we would examine stories such as this using the question: with whom do you identify in the story? Have you ever felt like the Prodigal Son, needing forgiveness and redemption? If we are honest, I think we all have had experiences where we felt that way. That is the human condition, after all, to fail and need to begin again. Have you ever felt like the Older Son, resenting others who needed a second chance, often being critical of them instead of extending mercy to them? I think we have all had that experience also, again because we are human beings and often judge others instead of thinking mercifully about them. The big question in the parable, though, is have you ever identified with the father in the story, having mercy on someone who offended you and forgiving them even if you thought they did not deserve to be forgiven? We sometimes find it easy to overlook faults when we can identify with the misgivings of others.
Jesus told many stories about God being the God of second chances, about God's mercy being given to ones who did not deserve to receive it, by human standards. Jesus even defended those in society whom others passed judgment upon. You may remember the story found in the King James Version of the Bible where a woman has been accused of committing adultery and the men of the town were gathered around to stone her as was commanded in the Hebrew law. When Jesus was asked what he thought should be done to her because of her sin, Jesus responded, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." When Jesus looked up to see only he and the woman remaining, he told her, "Go, and sin no more." Despite what the law said about what the woman had done, Jesus extended mercy to her and saved her life. Jesus cared more about individuals than about the letter of the law. He knew that God was the God of second chances.
As we live among each other, do we also believe in giving others "second chances"? Do we offer others the chance to begin again, to find renewal and new life even when we think they may not deserve it? Do our lives reflect the spirit of Christ that extended mercy rather than award justice? Do we offer others the "benefit of the doubt" rather than "jumping to conclusions" about the kind of person they must be based upon our assumptions we have formed?
If God is truly the God of mercy and forgiveness, then God is the God of second chances for everyone, including ourselves. God gives us mercy every day that we live. God overlooks our faults and failures, even when we deserve punishment if we were to take literally the words we find in the Bible. God's love is greater than our sin and God's steadfast mercy is never ending. If God loves us so much as to forgive us, then how much more does God expect us to forgive others and to extend to them second chances also.
We live fragile lives in a very fragile world. We often hurt each other and cause pain for others. We are worthy people, not based upon our standards, but based upon God's mercy and forgiveness. We are all sinners, saved by grace, if we have believed in Jesus Christ as our savior. We are all in the same boat of life, needing a savior to help us when the storms swamp our boat. We all need mercy and God expects us to also give mercy, especially when it is not deserved.