Formations lesson for April 1 - The Parable of the Two Sons
March 15 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Formations lesson for April 1 - The Parable of the Two Sons | Friday, March 16, 2001

Friday, March 16, 2001

Formations lesson for April 1 - The Parable of the Two Sons

By Ken Vandergriff Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Grace is shocking. The generous mercy of God overflows to those who are undeserving of it, even when they don't ask for it. This lavishing of grace on the unworthy can even be offensive to those who think themselves good. Pure grace seems too good to be true to those who receive it, and it seems far better than it should be to those who believe justice demands that sinners get their due. Only Luke recorded what are probably the two best known of all Jesus' parables - the good Samaritan (10:25-37) and the lost son and the loving father (15:11-32). Both portray the surprising character of grace.

The literary context (Luke 15:1-2) For understanding any parable, it is crucial to notice its literary context. What action or question in his audience prompted Jesus to tell the parable? In today's text, verses 1-2 set the context. As the tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus and listened, the religious folk grumbled. They well knew that Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:15 warned about the company one keeps. If Jesus had been condemning the sinners, it would be different, but he was welcoming and eating with them (v. 2). The grumbling of the religious folk prompted Jesus to tell three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

Observing the story as story (Luke 15:11-32) Before asking about the deeper spiritual meaning of a parable, we should first simply see it as a story. A father's younger son asked for his inheritance. Jewish wisdom found in the Talmud (a collection of the wisdom of the rabbis) and in the book of Sirach (a Jewish book written two centuries before Christ; see Sir. 33:19-23) warned that it was unwise to disperse one's property before one's death, but the father did it anyway.

The son traveled to a distant country and spent his inheritance in "wild living." We should note that exactly what this consisted of is not defined in the story, except by the older brother (v. 30), but how would he have known? The Greek word, asotos, is used only three other times in the New Testament: in Eph. 5:18, where it is related to drunkenness, in Titus 1:6, where it is related to rebelliousness, and 1 Peter 4:4, where it appears in a list of sins including drunkenness, carousing, and idolatry. "Wild living" might include any number of specific things.

The heart of the story is in verses 20-24. Before the father even knew the son's attitude, he ran to welcome him. The grace of the father's action may be appreciated more if we consider other possible ways the story might have ended. The father might have stayed in his house and sent a servant out to the road with this message to his son, "Keep on walking. You made your decision; now you have to live with it. We don't want you here any more." Given what we know about human nature, that would have been a believable ending to the story. Or the father might have allowed the son to come in, and then forced him to grovel. "Didn't I tell you so before you went away?" That also would be a believable ending to the story.

But Jesus' story ended very differently. The father rushed to welcome his son, granting forgiveness even before it was requested. Moreover, that graciousness prompted bitterness in the other brother. How dare the disgraced brother be welcomed so.

Observing the deeper meaning of the story Only after we have observed the story line of a parable are we able to discern its deeper spiritual meaning. We might profitably reflect on two issues posed by this parable. First, the parable speaks of the crazy, radical liberality of grace. Grace goes to the undeserving, to losers, without reproach, even before they ask for it. The kingdom of God is a party, and God wants the undeserving at the party (compare Matt. 21:31).

Second, the parable challenges, maybe even offends, our sense of fairness. Too much talk about generous grace makes some people uncomfortable. Surely forgiveness ought to have a price. Let sinners grovel, not get off scot-free. But the way of grace is different. How shocking, and how appropriate.

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3/15/2001 11:00:00 PM by Ken Vandergriff , Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 | with 0 comments
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