Friday, February 23, 2007

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.


Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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4 Comments:

At 2/23/2007 06:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think one of the points of the Prodigal Son story is that NEITHER son gets the UNCONDITIONAL nature of God's love. It does not depend on any kind of human behaviour. We can block ourselves from receiving or feeling it by sin or self-righteousness, and one of those blocks is just as effective as the other!
By the way, I have read the Henri Nouwen book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and can heartily recommend it.

 
At 2/23/2007 07:34:00 AM, Anonymous Dennis R. said...

I can identify with the Father in the story. My daughter had a battle with drug addiction for many years which started in her young teens. I remember vividly worrying where she was, going out looking for, watching in the distance for her, hoping for her like the prodical to shake herself and come to her senses.

I feel this Father is our heavenly Father waiting for us to forsake pig food and return home for the heavenly food.

 
At 2/26/2007 09:02:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Ha! In high school we had a very "different" kind of religious education instructor, and I remember him saying, "Now let's turn to the coolest of the Gospel writers, Luke!"

 
At 2/27/2007 10:52:00 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'd have to say I've been more like the older son, and didn't really get why his reaction was so wrong until not too many years ago! Oh, well, at least I think I'm getting it. :)

Have very much grown to appreciate the father in this story and the fact that he was watching for the younger son to return. He saw him afar off and ran to him. The son didn't even have to come all the way home to receive forgiveness and feel that unconditional love. The father brought it right to him and brought him the rest of the way in. Kind of the same with that lost sheep. The shepherd puts it on his shoulders and carries it back to the flock. It is comforting to think that our Divine Father is doing the same for each of us - we just need to turn and He's right there waiting for us and will help us back into our home with Him.

Thanks for sharing these ideas, Laura!

Bets

 

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