Lent 2010: Day 6 – Context is Everything

We are examining the Parable of the Prodigal God (the father in the parable about the dissolute and proper sons – Luke 15:11-32) as discussed by Timothy Keller. What he wants us to learn from this passage turns on the context.

The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus sits and eats with tax collectors and sinners, so he tells three parables that are all related to the situation. The first is about a lost sheep, which the shepherd leaves the flock to save. The second is about the lost coin that the woman finds. Both of these are about seeking out repentant sinners.

Then Jesus tells a third parable where there are three characters: the father (representing God), the profligate son (representing the tax collectors and sinners) and the proper son (representing the Pharisees).

The first two are simple and are resolved simply. In both what was lost was found, the sinners who had lost their relationship with God were brought home. The third is not resolved and we are not sure of the outcome, other than the profligate son repents and comes home. What happens next we are not sure. However, historically commentators and preachers have made this person the purpose or illustration of the parable.

Keller argues that the real target is the Pharisees who are represented by the proper son. They have missed the whole point of repentance and redemption and are only concerned with money and possessions (Luke 16:14-15) just like the son who stays with the father. He is upset with his father’s extravagance when his brother returns seeking forgiveness. Is response is essentially “where is mine?”

The issue being illustrated here is the center piece of the Lord’s prayer and Jesus’ discussion with Peter on forgiving. Where is the compassion, the agape, the willingness to forgive, not just once or seven times, but the seventy time seven Jesus commanded. This story is an indictment of unforgiveness, where concern over money and property trump everything else.

The Pharisees, like the older brother, have missed the point, not just of the situation, but of life itself, which is redemption of the lost for all have sinned, not just the tax collectors and obvious sinners. These self-righteous men have forgotten Ezekiel’s prophecy about what God would do as an act of redemption.

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 11:19.

Their hearts, like that of the older brother were cold hard stone and they liked it just fine, thank you very much.

During our study on Sunday, one of the questions that we looked at was which son do you identify with and we all agreed both. There were times we played the part of each one, but the hardest failure to deal with was the stoniness. Sinners know in their heart, like the younger brother, that they need to repent. Stoney-hearted Pharisees on the other hand, usually don’t see their failure until God whacks them upside the head and sometimes not even then.

With that in mind, grace and peace to your day as you consider how your life reflects this parable.

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