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Lessons from Luke - Week 3

God’s Lost and Found

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The context of today’s passage is a confrontation that Jesus has with the Pharisees and the scribes. At the beginning of chapter 15, we read that all the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus in order to hear Him, but the Pharisees and the scribes complained about this. They said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (v. 2). That’s the reason Jesus shared three parables. He had heard the criticism that He had associated with tax collectors and with sinners, and not only was He associating with them, but He was actually sharing meals with them as well. 

The Pharisees and scribes were astonished, as this act contradicted their deeply cherished beliefs. They staunchly upheld the notion that salvation required maintaining a strict separation from those they deemed morally impure. From their perspective, Jesus' actions were blasphemous. Jesus didn't associate with tax collectors and sinners to emulate them, but out of compassion, aiming to reveal an alternative way of life. His motive was to demonstrate a love they likely had never encountered before.

Jesus said on another occasion, “It’s not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31–32). That’s where He spent his time. 

The parables that are Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ opposition still have the power to expose the roots of indignation that nudge all of us whenever we feel that God is too good to others and not good enough to us. We like the concept of mercy for ourselves and we also like the concept of justice for others but the parables call us to acknowledge and cherish the fact that God has been merciful not only to us but to others also, even to those we would not have accepted into our spaces. 

Jesus illustrates the profound truth that every individual holds immeasurable worth in the eyes of God. Through the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, Jesus emphasizes the unwavering concern of God for those who have strayed from God’s path. Each story vividly portrays God's relentless pursuit of those who are lost, underscoring the significance of every soul in God’s kingdom. These parables reveal a God who not only notices when one child wanders but actively seeks to bring them back into the fold, demonstrating the depth of God’s love and compassion. It's a poignant reminder that no matter how far we may stray, we are never beyond the reach of God's grace and mercy.

Later in the passage, Jesus begins his parable with the younger son asking his father for an advance on his inheritance. Asking a living parent for an early inheritance in this particular culture was disrespectful. Children who make such a request lose their respect and honor, and their community ostracizes them. Contrary to all expectations, the father agrees to divide the property between his two sons. It doesn’t even appear that he’s taken aback by the request. It takes the younger son a few days to gather everything he inherited and travel to a foreign country. It seems he wants to cut all familial ties.

The younger son squanders his money away, and when famine hits the country, he begins to starve and hires himself out to one of the citizens to feed pigs. His status shifts from being a son of a large landowner to a man feeding pigs. Now he’s miserable. He hits a low moment in his life and it’s no one else’s fault by his own.

After the young man hit rock bottom, he “came to himself,” which means that he came to his senses and eventually repented. He, as Joel B. Green states, recognizes “his loss of status, the deteriorating social condition that developed from [his] series of actions.” 

The younger son had to face himself in the swine pen of his own making before he faced his father. 

Although the opportunity to restore relationships and resolve mistakes begins with coming to oneself, it requires more than just that. We must also go to the person we have wronged. One might wonder if the younger son was just seeking to improve his situation or if was seeking reconciliation with his father. His confession confirms the sincerity of his intent. Neither the younger son’s pride nor his shame mattered as much as his need to restore his relationship with his father. He did not ask for his family privileges to be restored. He did not even ask for forgiveness. He merely stated his wrongdoing. 

The younger son could have been in that swine pen forever. But he chose the path of humility, he chose to face his reality, he chose to stand in his truth about what he had done, and everything changed quickly for him and for his family when he finally came to his senses. 

Some may not expect the response that we see in this passage. When the son returns, the father runs to his son and accepts him back. The father runs to meet his son even before the son can voice his confession, and his response is far more receptive than the son had dared to even to imagine. Have you ever received grace at a time when you didn’t believe you deserved it? When we know we’ve messed up, God knows too. But the beautiful thing about our loving creator is that God wants to accept us back. God will accept us back.

I think the point that Jesus was trying to make, using this parable, about his relationship with sinners is that, we don’t decide who’s worthy of god’s grace and who’s not. Any child lost is precious to God and God wants every single one back. God doesn’t give up on us. God will never give up on us. God will keep calling us back home until we get there. That’s how much God loves us. God loves us enough to never stop caring.

The other brother, the son who didn’t claim his inheritance early, who didn’t go to a far country, who didn’t waste his life with extravagant living, was out working as he did every day, doing everything he believed he supposed to. Upon hearing what his father had done to celebrate his brother’s homecoming, the older brother refused to come in the house. Obviously, he represents the attitude that Jesus was correcting in the Pharisees. 

The traditional interpretation of this passage evolves around the theme of the lost son coming home but I would contend that in different ways, both sons were lost. The older brother in the story stayed home and worked for the dad while the younger brother was off doing his thing. The older brother resolved that he would work all day everyday, earning his keep instead of demanding it like his younger brother. That might not have been such a bad idea, except that the older brother lost sight of why he was working, lost sight of why he was home with his father. 

How often do we get so caught up in what we’re doing, be it things for the Kingdom or for ourselves, that we forget to look up to our God? How often do we go through the motions of our everyday lives, doing all the right things but not always for the right reasons. We could be in the house, like the older brother, following the script, with our hearts still messed up. 

The younger son wanted to experience the world away from his home and he went about that the wrong way. He made some bad decisions that he had to own up to later, but something must be said about the self-righteousness of his brother. Maybe more of us can identify with the older brother rather than the younger one. 

For those of us who would consider ourselves straight and narrow we must avoid judging those who don’t seem to get things right as often as we think we do. We must avoid sizing people up, especially in God’s name. Many of us might consider ourselves straight and narrow but I imagine the Pharisees must have believed that about themselves too. And what they say to Jesus wreaks of self-righteousness. 

“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” But Jesus makes a point that he's not too good to eat with anyone and they shouldn’t think they are either. 

The elder brother represents all of us who think we can make it on our own, all of us who might experience too much pride about the way we choose to live. As participants in the sharing of God’s grace, we have been called to join in the celebration when others are recipients of that grace also. Part of the fellowship with Christ is receiving and rejoicing with others who experience the grace of God. Each person is of such value to God that none is excluded from God’s grace. 

The parable leaves us with the question of whether the elder brother finally joined the celebration. We don’t know if he went in and welcomed his brother home or if he stayed outside pouting and feeling wronged. What would you do? 

I imagine we don’t know the ending of this story because it’s up to us to decide what the ending is going to be. Will you make room for the people who deserve to know what the grace of God feels like or will you walk away? 

Will you humble yourself where humility is needed so that you can experience the fullness of God’s grace or will let your pride maintain control over you? Christ offers us grace and it is grace that we must also offer our brothers, sisters, and sibling for Christ’s sake. Let us rejoice and give thanks that God’s grace is available to each and every one us. Let’s cherish that gift, now and forever.


Week 3- Luke - Discipleship Guide
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