From an Unknown Author
Your letter prompted me to write you back. Yet, though I am touched by your sincerity,some of your sentiments moved me to raise serious questions about punishment and mercy, sin and righteousness, compassion and justice.
It is known to you that your brother was deeply offended by the kind of reception I gave you upon your return. Any individual would have reacted as he did, for after all, human reason dictates that you deserve punishment.
I took a great risk when I accepted you back. My compassion brings forth sensitive questions. What is the use of striving to be righteous when both the sinner and the saint receive the same reward? Is an act of mercy a violation of justice? Is an act of compassion a a violation of partiality and fairness? I am a father and a judge, and if I mistakenly play one of these roles in the wrong part of the play, it might cause irreparable damage to the individuals concerned.
Tell me, son, was I wrong in showing you compassion? Does it not appear that mercy inverts the natural laws? The world is governed by natural disciplines and a system that ensures the order of life. Thus, any violation of such laws and rules should be punished. Is mercy a thief that steals the most treasured tenets of justice?
I am raising these questions not for myself but for you. You must realize that individuals who are recipients of compassion and mercy have great responsibility. I broke my own rules because of you. But then, compassion is a virtue that ends and begins in the one who dispenses it. True compassion moves in a circle: it flows to and through the sinner and returns to its source.
Mercy is an act of justice, for after all, why should I immediately destroy and break what I have lovingly created and nurtured? I will be unjust to myself if I will not be merciful.
I can read you and your brother’s unwritten question: Until when will I forgive? Yet both of you must ask the more important and right question. What must I do after having been forgiven? What can I do to prevent my brother from straying? Your brother felt slighted when you were forgiven. He seems to be unrewarded even after long years of faithful service and devotion. On the other hand, you returned to our home because of necessity and fear. Both of you need to reexamine your souls.
Now that you are forgiven and your punishment has been deferred, you should be very careful. You are walking on a narrow road. The shadow of just punishment you escaped will follow you wherever you go.
In the larger scheme of things, I want both of you to realize that there is a love that exists beyond human love. Such love transcends the boundaries your myopic sights have created. My business is to create and re-create everything under my domain.
I am overjoyed by your return not so much for myself but for you. If only you know how I wept on the day you turned against me. I placed a ring on your finger to signify your bondage. I clothed you with new robes to tell you that innocence can be regained even after sin. I slaughtered the fatted calf--one of our finest possessions--because I believe that my sons are the real treasures of this house.
We live in a world of wounded people. In some respect, life itself is a punishment. I am aware of the brokenness of every individual. I see their hidden fears and tears. I see them when they lie crying on their beds at night hoping for a better life at the break of dawn. I hear their sighs. I listen to their anguish. I also know what compels people to sin in spite of their good will. This is the reason why I choose to wield for you the sword of compassion rather than the sword of justice.
Son, I forgive you.