Luke 15:11-32 "Dead or Alive"

Day 302: Luke 14-16; The Lost are Found

As we read today we continue to see Jesus teaching in parables to the people that are around Him.  Today’s reading contains probably one of the most famous parables of all time, the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  However, before we talk about that particular parable, we need to pay attention to the context in which that particular passage is found.  Jesus, as He continues His journey and gets close and closer to Jerusalem, is continually responding to questions from the religious leaders and the pharisees about different elements of the law, ever challenging their way of life and in many cases rebuking them to the point of speechlessness over what they thought was the “right way” to life vs. what God was calling the people to do.  We have also seen many times throughout the Gospels, especially in Matthew, that Jesus says that He is called to the lost sheep of Israel and that He was called as a physician to the sick, not to take care of the healthy.

This, in my opinion, kind of turns on its head the religious practices of the time and also some of the Church’s religious practices of today as well.  Most specifically I see this in the three parables that comprise Luke chapter 15.  As I am thinking about this I am worried that I am going to go on a rant again, which is something I would like to stay away from.  That being said, with all the talk of the Church hemorrhaging people and being in decline, I wonder if these parables shouldn’t speak, at least in some way, into our current situation.  What do I mean by this?  Well…

Jesus tells a parable of the lost sheep.  A shepherd that is out with his flock notices that there is one missing.  Rather than saying, “that’s alright, I still have the 99 sheep so I’m still good,” he leaves the sheep out in the open country and goes out looking for the one lost sheep.  Mind you, the idea of the open country is that of a dangerous area where the shepherd is both leading and defending the sheep.  Chances are the sheep would follow him in his search, because that is what sheep do, but the point is that the shepherd is more preoccupied with looking for the lost sheep than caring for the other 99 sheep.

In the same way, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin.  Rather than being okay with the nine coins that she does have, this lady literally seems to turn her house upside down looking for that coin.  I think that I am only this thorough in looking for something if I lost my wallet, keys, or phone.  But the nine she has is just not enough, and the 99 sheep are just not enough.  Both of these characters are saying that is one gets away, it is 100% worth it to go after them and find them back.  I wonder what would happen if we went after our young people, those that are leaving the church, to try and find them back.  First of all, I suppose, we would need to be willing to commit to looking for them and to discipling them (something we’ll talk about more tomorrow), but I actually wonder if this is something that we would consider a worthwhile endeavor in the church today.  Or are we just okay with the 99 that we still have?

Now, Jesus goes on to tell the story of the prodigal son.  This man takes everything that he can from his father and his family and goes off without regard to their needs, love, care, or life.  He utterly scorns them with his request and completely abandons them.  We might not think this so bad if he left and invested his money and made a successful life for himself (being that we too believe heavily in the American dream and want to see our children do that for themselves), but He doesn’t.  Everything that was given to him is squandered, wasted on the trappings of a seducing culture.  The interesting thing in this story, in my opinion, is that this young man realizes the error of his ways and understands what he needs to do.  In an act of sheer humility, being as humbled now as he was scornful earlier, he returns to his father to ask to be a servant, just so that he can eat.  What does the son’s father do?  Does he hesitantly welcome him back, offering him a trial period before he can become a “son” again?  Does he turn him away because of his actions, refusing to forgive?  NO!  Absolutely not!  He pulls up his robe and goes running out to meet him (a very dishonoring action for a man of wealth in those days).  The Father throws his arms around the lost son, weeps for joy at his return and even has a huge celebration for the return of the son despite his other son’s protest!

So… what is the real question here?  I hate to boil this down to some sort of pithy moral statement because I think that these parables present a HUGE challenge for the Church today.  So many churches are losing people left and right.  More churches are closing in the country than ever before.  But I wonder, are we going out to find those lost sheep?  Are we pursuing our children, friends, neighbors and seem to be falling away from their faith?  Are we really rejoicing when they are found?  What about when a prodigal child returns home?  Do we run out to meet them with arms open despite the lifestyle that they may have been or are possible still involved in/recovering from (drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, homosexuality, etc.)?  Or do we treat them more like the father’s son, questioning why it is that we have allowed them back within our walls?

These are tough questions… questions that churches need to think deeply about… Jesus is pretty clear on what the answers are.  I think the question for us is whether we are in line with those answers… or not…