One of the most popular shows on Food Network is Iron Chef America. On each episode an esteemed chef in some exotic or specialty restaurant somewhere in America challenges one of the “iron chefs” to a cook-off, in which the challenger and the iron chef each build a 5-course meal around a “secret ingredient,” which has to be present in each of the dishes. This can get really interesting when chefs have to decide whether they want to push the envelope on coming up with something creative for a dessert when the secret ingredient is something that is not generally associated with a dish that would round off the meal nicely. Anybody in the mood for some lobster ice cream? No, thanks.

But often times, one of the chefs will dedicate one of the courses to promote a variety of ways a single item can be prepared and served on the same plate. Hence, the judges for the competition may be served, “Tuna: Three Ways” when the secret ingredient is tuna.

An example of yellow fin tuna prepared “three ways”; photo credit:

As the parable of the father and his two sons (see Luke 15:11-32) has been unfolding this week in revival at Liberty UMC, and in particular how the elder son shows his unwillingness to forgive and embrace his returning younger brother, I began to consider the various ways in which we tend to serve up our forgiveness to those on whom we’re called to show mercy. In the heat of the moment when someone has wronged me and I’m particularly peeved about it, here is the course I am tempted to serve up called, “Forgiveness: Three Ways”…

The first way I’ve prepared it is with a hint of sourness that will remind you that forgiveness isn’t always a sweet thing. When you bite into it, you’ll be reminded of the fact that I told you so. I told you that if you went down that road, you’d get hurt, but you didn’t listen, so now you get to taste some of the taste I’ve gotten to enjoy these last few years. So yes, I forgive you, but admit that I was right! Enjoy!

The second way I’ve cooked up this dish is perhaps something you’re used to hearing and may sound a little bitter, but I really don’t care. It’s the “I’ll forgive you, but only because I have to” method. I do want to let you know that even though I am required to love you and forgive you, I don’t have to like it or like you, for that matter. Cheers!

The final way I’ve prepared forgiveness is packed with a little extra kick that you don’t realize is there until a few bites later. I call it the warning of what’s to come if you try to hurt me again. I like to live by the phrase “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, I don’t want to be shamed, so I’ll let you know that I’m not gonna put up with any nonsense again. Bon appetit!

Now contrast that course with this one…

“I saw you and was moved with compassion. I ran to you, hugged you, and kissed you. Then you said to me, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve…’ But I said to others, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this person was dead and has come back to life! This person was lost and is found!’ And we began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24, reworded)

Rembrandt’s oil painting is more well known than this one, but this drawing was also done by Rembrandt, with pen & brush and is another wonderful portrait of the loving embrace of the father with his returning son. Photo credit: