We have been looking at the parable we often call the parable of the prodigal son. We have unpacked quite a bit already and we are only half way through. What we have learned so far is good and right and true, and I affirm it. But, I believe we will find the second half of the parable far more challenging. And so I decided we should back up just a touch and examine the context in which Jesus gives this parable, in order for us to better understand the message Jesus is giving.
Lets back up to the beginning of the chapter Luke 15:1
Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them this parable:
Who are these parables aimed at?
Well they are about lostness and there are tax collectors and sinners present... so it must be Jesus preaching to the lost.
But what does the rest of the text say? Who else was there?
When the text says “Jesus told them this parable” what is that in response to?
Jesus begins telling these parables in response to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law...
So I ask again, who are these parables aimed at?
See we know Jesus came here to seek and save the lost. Jesus himself says so more then once. But I wonder do we really understand lostness?
One of the dangerous traps we can fall into is to think Jesus spent all his time with tax collectors and prostitutes and said things like its not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick...
But Jesus recognizes another kind of sickness too. But its a little more subtle... See Jesus spends time with these religious elite, these Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and
saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed.
So when Jesus tells these Parables he has a mixed crowd of listeners in mind, and he tells them in response to the religiosity of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
Now with that firmly in mind lets listen to the first parable found in Luke 15:
"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'
Now to us at first glance this parable appears to be about The good Shepard Jesus rescuing a poor lost sheep. But remember the context is important. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, folks who have the scriptures memorized. And they have a firm tradition involving these Sheep and shepard immages:
God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah and says:
"My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place.”
And again later God speaks through the prophets
Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the Lord."I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.
He's talking about the priests and false prophets of the fallen kings of Judah and Israel. God calles them shepards who led astray and poorly cared for the sheep entrusted to them.
And who does does Jesus cast as the shepherds in the first parable?
In response to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law questions he says “Suppose one of you”
Now if your in this position what do you say?
Jesus has just publicly put them in the place of their ancestors and given the chance to monday night quarterback.
Of course they are going to say they would go after the sheep, after all sheep are dumb animals. So, its not the sheep's fault it got lost.
Then Jesus continues:
"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Who wouldn't search for a lots coin?
Again its not the coins fault it got lost!
But Jesus is not so much trying to teach in these first two parables as he is trying to set them up for his final Parable.
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Who is lost?
The younger son certainly, but is he alone in his lostness?
And its not as if he is a dumb animal or a simple coin... So, who's fault is it that he is lost?
Jesus set the religious folks up so that they would see themselves as the older brother...
And if we take the father figure to be God, as I believe Jesus intended, who are you?
I know we like to say “I was the younger son...”
But what about the Older son?