Luke: Telling it like it is (and) Which son are you?
Last night I attended a discussion with fellow church members on the Gospel of Luke, third in our series of reading the gospels together.
What I had noticed most about Luke is how different in tone it is from Matthew and Mark. It seemed tougher, even harsher, about what you need to do to enter the kingdom and what will happen to you if you don't. This falls into line with blogging recently about God's justice and punishment.
Jesus has some very tough words for hypocrites and those who don't get it. I can see where this has come to be thought of as he's actually condemning anyone who doesn't follow his recommendations (non-Christians). But what I think he's really trying to explain is the inevitable suffering being cut off from divine influence engenders. It's not that God will rain destruction down on these folks, it's that their own unenlightened perspective will keep them in their own equivalent of hell. Jesus is just telling it like it is.
We spent a lot of time with the prodigal son story, which only appears in Luke. Putting it in context, this story follows right after the Pharisees blame Jesus for dallying with publicans and sinners, and he chastises them with the lost sheep story. The prodigal son then becomes a follow-on metaphor for the lost sheep.
We looked closely at the younger son, the older son and the father. One of our group had read Return of the Prodigal Son, a work about this parable, and she had lots of insight to share. She mentioned that the greater sin might have been from the older son—that sins that are self-destructive (such as the younger son's "riotous living") are actually not as bad as the self-righteous sin of wanting to damage another (the older son's jealousy).
Yet the father remains the father. He is unchanging unconditional love throughout, patiently meeting his sons' demands without arguing. Someone pointed out that we never find out what happens with the older son after the father's startling statement, "Son, thou are ever with me, and all that I have is thine." If Jesus gave us a happy ending to the story, Luke doesn't record it. The story ends with the father speaking, and it's left to us to decide whether the older son gets it and goes into the party.
And I'm left thinking, sure, the one lost sheep gets found, but how do the 99 other sheep feel about that? Am I truly grateful when a lost soul finds their way, or do I sit self-satisfied in my righteousness that I never was so stupid? Of course, I've been lost on many occasions and have been brought back. But when I'm feeling "right" or "good," do I look down on those who are struggling still? Or even those who also feel "right" or "good," yet their version of these things looks different than mine?
If I'm honest, I have to recognize that I have played the roles of both younger and older son. But I also can see that on occasion, I've emulated most the father. And maybe that's the point of the story, really. Don't stress about which son you are, but try to be more like the father.
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