15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Oremus text online: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Luke+15:1-32&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
Textweek general resources: http://www.textweek.com/yearc/lentc4.htm
Textweek resources for the Luke’s Gospel this week: http://www.textweek.com/mtlk/lk15.htm
Chris Haslam’s commentary for this week: http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/clnt4l.shtml
Forsaking your embrace, O good and gracious God, we have wandered far from you and squandered the inheritance of our baptism… Restore us now with the embrace of your compassion, and grant that we who have been found by your grace may gladly welcome to the table of your family all who long to find their way home. We ask this through Christ, our peace and reconciliation, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, god for ever and ever.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
A Few Thoughts Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
We begin with the idea that the tax collectors and sinners are coming to listen, to hear, Jesus. If we look at the previous chapter we see this is in direct response to the words “let the one with ears to hear listen.” What follows is a complaint from those having a difficult time hearing, the Pharisees. They are complaining that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.
It is to these accusations that Jesus offers us a parable. I have a friend who believes that it is their charge that he ate with sinners which ultimately brought about Jesus’ death. There are many factors which contributed to Jesus’ death; Raymond Brown’s treatment of the texts in his book The Death of the Messiah seems an important resource on this topic. Nevertheless, I believe most will say that this action of hospitality was one of the most serious and perhaps inflammatory actions undertaken by the Son of God; made all the more scurrilous by the growing popularity of the his prophetic teaching and works of miraculous grace.
In this season of Lent one may very well be led by meditations to ask, “Who is this Messiah who stoops to choose me?” The answer is that it is exactly this Lord that we proclaim. And so we turn to the parable to better understand the meaning of this profound gesture.
I would note first that this is the first of three parables on the topic of those who cannot hear what God is doing in the reign of God. The next one is the parable of the shepherd with the one lost sheep and the third is the parable of the woman with the lost coin.
So we have the wayward sheep. The shepherd leaves all his sheep to find the one. He puts the lamb on his shoulders thereby insuring work for Tiffany stained glass manufactures for decades. Actually, most people may remember that first year bible class or the History channel’s explanation of this very ancient connection to the shepherd Hermes. Regardless of the historical birth of the image it is a powerful one of our theology of redemption and works deep on our mind and hearts as we think of our own lost selves and the good shepherd seeking after us. What is miraculous is that any good shepherd would actually, pragmatically, leave the rest for the one. I think this taps deeply into the real time imagery Jesus is offering his listeners. Were the Pharisees and scribes, the people of Israel themselves, not of enough value to the shepherd? Why wouldn’t the shepherd be satisfied with the sacrifices and faithful people so very focused on the Temple worship of Jesus’ day? The parable though puts an explanation point on the words of Jesus, “I have come to gather up the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus is in fact illustrating his mission and our own. We are to be like Jesus more concerned with those outside of our safe pasture. Who are those in need?
We can easily echo Jesus’ mission to the poor, the oppressed, and the captives. Here is an example of how God is concerned and we are to be concerned, so concerned that we reach out and find the lost sheep. How often do we come to worship to receive? What would it be like to turn our gaze outward and seek the lost? How might this change our ministry concerns?
Before Jesus moves to the next parable he teaches those who are listening, “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven at one sinner’s repentance that at ninety-nine righteous people who do not need repentance.”
Then we arrive at the story of the man who had two sons. We commonly call this the story of the prodigal son, but this means we are too easily focused on one and not the other. I have often wondered if the more interesting story isn’t the part hardly ever spoken about: what the faithful son does and says. After all, as a full member of the body of Christ, a faithful servant, I am much more like the insider in this story than the outsider. What would it be like to engage in preaching and teaching that focused the church’s attention on the “good son?” Most everyone likes to be the good guy, the one with the white hat in the old westerns, the savior, and the best man. When it comes to bible stories we like to be the bad guy, the outlaw, the outcast, the last man. When we, the corporate we, do this as the church I think we may miss the better half of Jesus’ point.
So, let’s lean into this parable. So we have two sons, one of them asks for a share of the property. He is of course asking for an early share in the inheritance. If interested you may wish to look at Leviticus 27:8-11. He receives it and goes off to a foreign land. He certainly squanders his share, living without control. However, there is no suggestion of sexual excess. He literally scattered his wealth.
Then there is a famine. Our bad son ends up tending the pigs. This is really bad. Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
“Not eating pork becomes a test of fidelity to Torah in the time of the Maccabees. To tend the pigs of a Gentile is about as alienated as a Jew could imagine being. In the Mishnah, raising pigs is forbidden to Jews. The attitude toward Samaritans and pigs alike is captured by the saying of Eliezar, ‘He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.’ One rabbi, at least, considered the craft of shepherding to be equivalent to the ‘craft of robbers.’” (LTJ, Luke, 237)
Well after being filled with enough corn husks that he comes to his senses and decides to return to his father and tell him how wrong he was. He has sinned against God and he will only ask for a work, like one of the fieldworkers. Interesting though that even though he requests menial work he addresses the head of the house as father. All he wants is his daily bread. All he wants from the father who is connected to heaven is a small apportionment of bread.
When the father sees him, he runs, hugs, and kisses his son. Now we have extravagant gestures being offered. He doesn’t even have the opportunity to pray and ask to be treated as a daily worker. Let’s have the fatted calf and a robe for this celebratory return.
The son was lost but now found, dead but now alive. Here the son reflects the story of Jesus as a child found in the temple, he reflects Jesus after his resurrection. Today, like the past those who have been lost resonate with this moment.
But while you and I may have indeed had moments of being lost, and will surely have plenty more moments of being lost in our future…we must recognize today we are listening as one who is found. So, it is our story which comes next. Some days we are like the tax collector and the sinner in the beginning of the story, most days we are like the Pharisees and the good son.
It is this good son who is so angry he cannot even go into the feast he is so angry. Notice here the similarity to the other son. He does not come in, but is out on the roadside. The father runs out to meet him as well. He comes out and he comforts him. He feels compassion and pleads with him to enter, this is the meaning of the Greek in this instance (LTJ, Luke, 238).
Here again are the words of compassion equally given to both sons. The elder son is friend and companion who have shared everything in a community of possessions. Not unlike Luke’s Acts where the community of faithful followers of Jesus share everything in common with one another.
So we hear the final teaching of Jesus in the mouth of the father: we must celebrate the lost who are found and the dead who are alive.
I quote from Luke Timothy Johnson’s conclusion here:
“If the first part of the story is pure gospel – the lost are being found, the dead rising, and sinners are repenting because of the call of the prophet – then the last part of the story is a sad commentary on the Pharissaic refusal out of envy and resentment to accept this good news extended to the outcast. The allegorical level of meaning is irresistible: they, like the elder son, had stayed within covenant and had not wandered off; they had never broken any of the commandments. But (the story suggests) they regarded themselves not as sons so much as slaves. And they resented others being allowed into the people without cost. The son refusing to come into the house of singing and rejoicing is exactly like those who stand outside the heavenly banquet while many others enter in (13:28-30). And if this all were not obvious from the wording of the final scene, then Luke’s compositional frame makes it unmistakable: he told these stories to righteous ones who complained about the prophet accepting sinners. (15:1-2)” (LTJ, Luke, 242)
Are we ready for the banquet? Are we ready to rejoice with those who are found today? Are we facing inward looking at the party or outward like Jesus and the Father and welcoming people in? Are we more ready to make up stories about how others can’t possibly be part of us? Or, are we more ready to great them, clothe them, and feed them?
This is a powerful message for the institutional church considering mission and ministry outside of its walls. This is a powerful message for the institutional church seeking to understand its work of welcoming the stranger.
The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”