Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In the Finding: Luke 15

In Summary: Luke 15 has three of the better-known stories told by Jesus in his ministry. We see the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Better, perhaps, is to view these as the stories of the found sheep, the found coin, and the found son.

After all, that is the focus of the message here. Jesus does not detail how to handle lost items, nor does he spend the time lamenting their lostness. Instead, the focus rests on how people respond to finding their precious possessions.

The three parables run in parallel to one another. Keeping in mind that parables tend to use simple images to explain more complex ideas, so we want to understand the simple images. The key, generally, is there.

In Focus: The simple images from the three parables are these:

1. The lost item.
A. The lost sheep: a sheep tends to just wander off, it’s an animal. It needs guided and cared for, and if it wanders it needs found.
B. The lost coin: gravity and physics, and a dropped coin becomes a lost one. It is totally unable to find itself—it must be found.
C. The lost son: the first two are most likely lost due to accident or misfortune. The son? He is lost due to his own will. Unlike the others, the son chose to get lost and has the capacity to return.

2. The finder.
A. The sheep-owner: he knows just how many he should have, and has the capacity to protect the remaining ones while he looks.
B. The coin-seeker: again, she is aware of how many coins she should have, and then goes to great lengths to find the missing one.
C. The son-finder: he does not go out to find the son, but he did hold a seat at the table for him. He also allowed the son’s departure, though he obviously laments the son’s choice.

3. The celebratory crowd.
A+B. Friends and neighbors: Both coin and sheep result in celebrations with friends and neighbors, as joy is shared with others.
C. In the son story, we do not get the exact participants in the crowd. The father says “we,” and so one can assume the presence of members of the household. It is possible that the neighbors are there. Of greater concern is the highlight of the missing participant in the celebration: The unhappy onlooker. He appears only in this parable of the three.

In Practice: Attaching a practical significance to this passage requires us to understand who these simple characters are. From there, we see who we are, who we should be, and who we are not.

First, who we are not. The finder. The shepherd, the woman with the coin, the father, all are examples of the character and compassion of God the Father. Is it possible for us to act like the Father? Yes, but we are not God. These characters show us His character that we strive to emulate, but God is the one who finds the missing.

Second, who we are: the lost coin, the missing sheep, the wandering son. This is us. This is humanity: we have wandered off. We have gotten lost in the course of life. We have taken the riches of our heritage of the image of God and spent it on our own pleasures.

Third, who we should be and who we should not be: to get this, take a look at Luke 15:1-2 and see why Jesus told these parables in the first place. Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors—and “sinners” here are likely “sinners” by reputation more than anything else. The Pharisees and scribes were angry with the celebration of sinners repenting and especially with one who claimed to be God participating.

The Pharisees and scribes, then, are acting like the brother at the end of the Prodigal Son story. We should be more like the friends and neighbors who celebrate the repentance of sinners rather than the brother. These parables are an invitation to join in the celebration of repentance.

What, then, do we do?

We repent, so that we are permitted to be in the presence of the One who throws the celebration in the first place. Don’t miss that: if you are not found, you can’t celebrate. Let the Father find you.

We celebrate, without excessive complaint. What difference does it make what sins were forgiven? Or how lost someone was? Celebrate the finding.

In Nerdiness: Feels like I took it all the way apart, leaving nothing for nerds, right?

The nerd question comes through with every parable discussion: did these 3 things happen or did Jesus create teaching stories?

If He only used real stories, what does that say for us as teachers and our use of fiction?

If He used fictional stories, what does that say about balancing truth with fiction in explanation?

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