Jesus uses stories to unpack truth. Simple stories. Stories with which anyone may identify.
In response to the Pharisees' attitude of superiority toward tax collectors and "sinners," Jesus tell three stories: a shepherd who has one wayward sheep among a flock of a hundred; a women with ten coins, one of which is lost; a story about a father and his two sons.
The first story commends the shepherd who will not rest until the wayward one sheep is restored and celebrates the restoration of the lost one.
The second story highlights the recovering of the lost coin and the rejoicing after its finding.
The third story contrasts the moral superiority of the older brother with the immorality of the younger brother.
The younger brother takes his inheritance and wastes it on riotous living. The depletion of all his resources brings him to the end of himself: "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" (Lk. 15:17). He begins his return to his father with the acceptance that he no longer deserves the position of son: "I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants'" (15:18-19). His father sees him afar off, throws a feast, and restores him as son, once lost, now found.
The younger brother has to experience the emptiness of riotous living in order to understand that a problem past doesn't prevent the Father's love.
The older brother has to experience the emptiness of moral living in order to understand that performance-based morality doesn't purchase the Father's love. Jesus never indicates to His audience whether the older brother comes to his senses, as his brother had.
The verdict is still out.
The older brother is not happy with the younger brother's return. He hates his father for withholding from him a similar party based on his performance, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends" (15:29). Sadly, he is unaware that he is just as lost to his father as his younger brother was before he returned.
Will the Pharisees continue to cling to their moral superiority? Will they identify with the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost brother?
Pharisees (legalists) do not care for the lost and only resent their restoration.
Pharisees (legalists) fail to see themselves as lost and in need of recovery.
Pharisees (legalists) fail to see their own alienation from the Father.
Pharisees are an unengaged people group-that is, though they are religious, theirs is one of outward performance instead of inward reality.
Perhaps these stories will reach them.
What does the story about the rich man and Lazarus reveal about those who only live for now? About their deaths? How do the stories of the rich young ruler and Lazarus parallel those of the the lost sheep, coin, and older brother?
Martha often is compared unfavorably to her sister Mary. What does the death of Lazarus reveal about her theology? How does her response differ from that of Mary? How does Martha's confession compare with that of Peter in Matthew 16:13-17?
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