Reading for Friday, March 23: Luke 15
This is another one of those “mountain peak” sections of Scripture, one that seems to tower over the others in terms of its resonance with us: the “Lost” parables of Luke 15.
Note the setting that prompts these teachings: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ (vv1-2)”
The common man is drawn to Jesus.
The “righteous” man is appalled by this.
Jesus seems right at home in the presence of these thieves and gamblers and prostitutes. But as we’ve seen, He directs some pretty scathing comments to those who seem to have forgotten that they, too, were once lost. More pointedly, Jesus has a problem with those who fail to realize that they ARE STILL LOST WITHOUT HIM.
The story of the lost sheep: Jesus describes the action of a loving shepherd who pursues his lost sheep. It’s not that He has no regard for those who remain “in the fold”; not at all. But in this setting, Jesus seems to be saying, “God has a heart for those who are far off, so much that there is tremendous rejoicing in heaven when one of these lost sheep comes home.” Tax collectors needed to hear that message. Pharisees did too, but their own self-professed piety was like cotton in their ears. It kept them (or at least most of them) from hearing the glory of this Good News.
The story of the lost coin drives home the point even more. When that which was lost is suddenly “found”, there is great joy in heaven.
Sunny and I had been married a few months when we went out to Colorado with our best friends, Corey and Alisha. One afternoon, we decided to drive up to Pike’s Peak to take in the scenery. We pulled the car over at a little place to get out and take pictures and somewhere along the way, my wedding ring slipped off my finger. I realized this just as we were getting into the car…and I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. We all got out of the car and spent the next few minutes scurrying around on our hands and knees, scooping up snow and dirt and mud looking for my ring. Somehow, Alisha spotted my ring near the rocks where we took our pictures. Needless to say, dinner was my treat that evening. We rejoiced over this precious item that had been returned to us!
Wedding rings, coins, sheep…these material possessions mean a great deal to us. They’re part of the fabric of our lives. But how much greater is the rejoicing, Jesus says, when a LOST SOUL returns home! This is the impact of His final story, His most beloved parable: the lost son. In the ancient world, it would’ve been a sign of disrespect to say to one’s father: “Gimme my inheritance now.” (Who are we kidding? This would be disrespectful TODAY too!) In essence, the son is saying to his father, “I can’t wait for you to die. I want what’s mine now.” Amazingly, the father gives in to the son’s request. And of course, the boy squanders it all away. Destitute, he returns home, practicing his apology as he nears his father’s house. But the image that stands out to me is this father, a wealthy man, leaping off the front porch and running to embrace his son while he was still a long way off. In the ancient world, rich people didn’t hurry anywhere. They didn’t have to. Whatever you were doing, wherever you were going, you didn’t hurry if you were rich. They’ll wait on you; no way anybody is going to start without you. But this father loses all inhibition when his son nears the homestead. In that moment, he wasn’t a “rich man” with rings and cattle and land….he was simply a lovestruck father, rushing headlong to meet his boy whom he loved.
This is the portrait of our Father in heaven Jesus leaves for us.
To the Pharisees, he adds one final character: the older brother, the faithful son who resents his younger sibling. But the father teaches this son, too. The joy of the Gospel should never be lost upon us — for we, too, were once lost. Praise God for His unfailing love!