faith, joy, lost, our hearts, repentance, separation

A Very Lost Son, #10a

Painting by Rembrandt, 1667

Luke 15:11-32, part 1 of 4

11 He also said, 

“A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 

14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. 15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ 

20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’”

28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Magnificent, defined

adjective

  1. impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking/ “a dramatic landscape of magnificent mountains”
  2. very good; excellent/ “she paid tribute to their magnificent efforts”

This is one of the most exquisite passages in all of scripture. If the Bible is a mountain range, then this would be Everest. This is the third parable–all in Luke 15, and all dealing with lost things. Everything is lost in this chapter, but we could also say that everything is found, and we wouldn’t be in error. This story is one artists love to paint, and preachers like to preach.

They say that every actor dreams about playing “Hamlet,” and Jesus’ story is a dream for every reader and thinker or actor. As a writer I don’t really know how to begin, I could easily produce a library with this simple parable. (And some have tried.)

There are just three characters here: the Father, the son and the elder brother–and each play an integral part of the story. The prodigal is the main character, but the father is the main focus. The son is a wastrel, a good-for-nothing rascal who blows his father’s inheritance on parties, booze and prostitutes. He lives for the moment, he seeks pleasure in those things which destroy him.

Haven’t we all done that; at least to a degree?

The father represents God, who represents the loving patriarch of the parable. He’s the one who has turned over the prodigal’s portion of the inheritance. To a degree I suppose he has funded the prodigal’s descent into depravity, and yet it was the son who decided to go crazy. The father is not to blame.

But in this story, the father is vital. His actions are very difficult for us to grasp. He behaves outrageously, his behavior is quite difficult to understand or fathom. Who acts this way? Granted we think our earthly fathers might do this, but on a superficial level it doesn’t make any sense at all. This parable describes how God feels about sinners.

But don’t blame dad.

This post is merely an introduction. I intend to do a couple of posts based on this parable. Obviously, I can’t begin to do this justice, and even with two or three more posts I’ll be only skimming the surface–most likely, inadequately. I covet your prayers. I love this parable, perhaps more than any other, I definitely want to do it justice.

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.”  

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

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discernment, evil, Jesus, lost, our hearts, separation, sheep, wealth

The Story of a Lost Sheep, #8

On a warm afternoon, a lamb takes a peek at a visitor while eating hay at Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vt., on April 27, 2003. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

Luke 15:1-7

 “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“So he told them this parable: 4 “What man among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, 6 and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ 7 I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.”

What does it mean to be lost? All of us have that much figured out by now–and if not, we will. The Bible nails us with this particular story, and it rings very true of the human condition. You don’t need a PhD in Psychology to understand this. The heart and soul of a man, a woman is in the awful state of separation, and for some of us–we understand. For others, the clock is ticking.

Let’s face it, the Pharisees and the scribes have issues. Their whole belief system–the idea of who’s righteous and who’s not, is being rocked. The sinners are coming to listen to Jesus (maybe for the stories, maybe for something else?) The religious regime are mystified, and maybe a bit jealous. Perhaps they were irked at the grace of God they see in Jesus?

Jesus tells a story, (and he loves to tell stories I’ve found.) Anyway, the parable he shares is 100 words (more or less) and it describes the condition of every man, woman and child–everyone who has ever existed. He clearly cuts through “religion” like a hot knife through cold butter. He quite succinctly describes us. And wow, these stories are eye-openers.

We’re all lost sheep–wandering, and very confused.

The paths we’ve taken to get out of our “lost-ness” have only confused us even more. We’ve had to deal with thorns and vultures; it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve never been able to reconnect to safety. Some become “smart” people, others buy fast cars, some kill their lost-ness with booze or drugs. We find many different ways to keep us from feeling this separation from God.

A very lost sheep. In Luke 15, we find three parables that all deal with lost things–sheep, coins and sons. Essentially, they each explain things; they’re very aware. Most of us know that the religion of the Pharisees hasn’t worked. Even the sinners understand that much. Sometimes even the very lost have figured that much out, even before the so-called righteous do. Some of us need to listen closer to sinners, and to stop listening to religious people.

Jesus tracks us down–our confusion has finally enabled us to finally see his outstretched arm. The Father has this odd preference for those who know they’re lost, and these three parables come in a deliberate succession–that should make things pretty clear.

So dear one, will you insist on wandering? Is that what you really want?

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discernment, evil, Jesus, judgement, kingdom, obedience, separation

Good Fish, Bad Fish, #7

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind of fish, 48 and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but threw out the worthless ones. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 13:47-50, (context, vv. 47-52)

There will be a separation, of that scripture is painfully clear. This division can also be seen in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. In both stories we see this splitting-up of the authentic and the false. The saved and unsaved. They’ll never be mixed, they’re like oil and water.

In the final analysis, not everyone is the same.

In this parable a dragnet (a net that scrapes the bottom) collects all the fish. Apparently none escape. The net is finally dragged up on the beach, and people begin the sorting process. This really has to be done.

Here in Alaska I had the wonderful chance to work in a cannery. There was an automated line where a bunch of us stood. (Believe me when I tell you it was hard and mindless work.) We picked out the fish that didn’t belong, and only the good were crated up. These were flash frozen for their trip to Japan. The bad fish were ground up (if I remember correctly) and dumped. The sea gulls loved it.

In this parable we see precisely the same kind of separation.

There was no wholesale acceptance of every fish. The “quality control” guys looked over the sorter’s work, they made sure that every fish ended up where it was supposed to go. There couldn’t be any mistakes. I suppose if anything, the whole process might be called “discernment.” Distinctions were made by the type (or nature) of every fish that came on the line.

There can be no mixture in the Kingdom of God. Oil and water, even if you shake it–really, really hard, you still can’t get them to blend. Apparently they’re of different densities (I assume anyway) and they won’t merge or mingle. That’s a fact.

There’s coming a time, Jesus said, that there will be a reckoning, a summation. The Kingdom of God won’t come as a party for everyone. We’re pretty much warned of that ahead of time.This is going to happen, you can mark it on your calendar. Jesus shared this story, and it doesn’t entertain us like some of the other parables he shared. It’s meant to sober us up, and it’s given to help us choose, and prepare.

We have been warned.

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