I would like us to look at ‘pictures’ in the Bible, to be exact, Luke chapter 15.
A favourite chapter.
Some of you will know that I’m a ‘Yes - But’ person, and I am with this chapter.
These parables are often described as being about the ‘lost’ sheep, coin, son, – or – about the ‘found’ sheep, coin, son. There is the alternative of ‘the forgiving father’ which is good.
‘Yes, But’ I say, ‘I see these parables’ punchline as JOY!’
The point of these parables, see verses 1 & 2, is that the religious leaders were rejecting these ‘sinners’:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Luke 15:1-2
SO Jesus was finding! Restoring them; a cause for JOY! Like finding hidden treasure; or that perfect indescribable pearl, the joyful knowledge of the Kingdom when we do find it. Search for it, or find it given us by heritage.
Another ‘But” is that the word ‘prodigal’ was ruined for me by its use here for a title. It’s a heading, an addition, as is the ‘importunate’ widow. (To restore the meaning of prodigal; generous, overflowing, burgeoning, see ‘Prodigal Summer’ by Barbara Kingsolver.)
The picture of the lost sheep is familiar. It is a relief to restore one to the flock, joyfully carried home. It says ‘Rejoice with me’. And see here, 99% of the ecclesia is still safe. See verse 7: those 99% ‘do not need to repent’.
See “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners .” Matthew 9:13
I suggest, that when we have been baptised, accepted Christ, had sins forgiven, ‘we are no longer sinners’. Potential stumblers maybe.
The scene of the anxious woman seeking one coin, although she still has 9.
A pause in the tale, in the gloom, – then exultation, joy, calls her friends and neighbours; “Rejoice with me!” Yes it was lost, it was found, but I see the jolt of joy being the message.
Lydia, my wife, lost all trace of a lovely watch recently. It just vanished. Phone calls, retracing journeys, steps, activities; where have we been? Till one day, out of the blue – there it was! What relief! What joy!
Now, the scene of the younger, reckless, wasteful son and brother.
The estate was secure. Father, older son and their workers were there. No word of mother. The absent son was missed. Father hadn’t gone to fetch him, then - we love that line “When he came to his senses”. So often we have imagined it. When his father saw the distant figure moving wearily closer, I see him dusty, he ran, hugged and kissed him! (That pleasure denied us at present.)
The message? Less ‘he was lost’; less ‘he was found’, but, running, spilling over, that surge of absolute joy. That ‘prodigal’ joy! Before that confessing son could blurt his rehearsed line “make me as one of your hired servants” his father restored him: he had come home!
In these scenes we have the descriptions ‘joyfully’, ‘rejoice’, ‘rejoicing’, ‘safe and sound’, ‘celebrate’ ‘celebrate’, ‘be glad’, and the only mention in the gospels of ‘music’!
The religious leaders are the older brother; but let’s imagine, as it’s a parable and not fact, that the elder brother came round; after all, his father had said “All that I have is yours!” He had lost nothing, like the labourers in the vineyard, ‘I give as we agreed”.
The younger son ‘your brother’ was dead, now alive; lost, now found; because of his restoration there was celebration and music and gladness. That is – Joy.
We can bring that joy here. Jesus was dead and is alive again; was lost to the disciples and found resurrected! He was led from temptation and testing; delivered from evil.
We know of the execution of Jesus which he endured, and the joy of his resurrection. That was the joy set before him.
When we take bread and wine as they did, we take of that joy.
PS Recently we read from Proverbs 29:3 NIV
“ A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth”. I wondered what relevance it has.
It does fit remarkably well with the retort of the older brother.
“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
Luke 15:30 NIV
But, as we know, ‘he came to himself’.