Among the parables of Christ, this passage warms the hearts of most – if not convicting their souls. But convicting or consoling Jesus is certainly calling us all to action and he is vividly illustrating to the very peers of Nicodemus the same message he shared nearly two years before as recorded in John 3:16 – that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Podcast: Coming soon


Section 116 | Parables in Defense of Association with Sinners

Luke 15:1-32
1 Now all the tax collectors1 and sinners were coming close to him to hear him.2  2 The Pharisees3  and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”4 3 He told them5 this parable. 4 “Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them,6 wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it?7 5 When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I tell you that even so there will be more joy8 in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance. 8 Or what woman, if she had ten drachma coins,9 if she lost one drachma coin, wouldn’t light a lamp, sweep the house, and seek diligently until she found it?10 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors,11 saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost.’ 10 Even so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner repenting.” 11 He said, “A certain man had two sons.12 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of your property.’ He divided his livelihood between them. 13 Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living.13  14 When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs.14 16 He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. 19 I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 “He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let’s eat, and celebrate; 24 for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ Then they began to celebrate.15 25 “Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on. 27 He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.’ 28 But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this your son came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ ”16


Group Dialog:

  1. SHEEP: Have you ever had an incorrect perception of someone? How have your own priorities clouded your
  2. COIN: The coins represent something of value, and all three parables concern the restoration of “lost relationships”. What act of God (directly, through nature or another person) initially brought you into relationship with him?  Tell of another time since “being born again” that God restored your relationship with him again?  Marvell at the implications and significance of each persons story.
  3. SON: How would you describe the son’s character? What causes him to “come to his senses”? Do you relate to either of the brothers? If so, which one and why? What judgments have you made on those that have strayed from living a life for God? Read vs 32 – what good news does Jesus have for the Pharisees?
  4. What does this story teach us about the character of God? What brings him joy and what he hopes to do?
  5. Who do you know that needs to be found, reconciled and return to a right relationship with God? What prayers and help do you need to help that individual?
  6. Luke’s primary audience was Greek (Gentiles) and his is the only Gospel to include this story- what effect might this story have had on them? Can you think of people you know who might really appreciate this story?

Learning Objectives: God’s mercy and compassion, repentance, reconciliation, joy, spiritual responsibility of believers, and the mission of God.

Media: 

The Orthodox church has a “kontakion hymn” suited for this passage:17

I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father;
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You gave to me.
And now I cry to You as the Prodigal:
I have sinned before You, O merciful Father;
Receive me as a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.

Notes:

  1. Tax collectors were disliked, viewed as traitors to their culture, as they would collect taxes from the Jews (often excising even more for themselves) and give it to Caesar.
  2. Jesus was gaining quite a crowd – His authority, wisdom, mercy and spiritual power was far reaching.
  3. This would refer to only a certain number of The Pharisees who were in the region of Perea, and probably sent as an official delegation from Jerusalem to further investigate Jesus. According to Josephus there were approximately 6,000 pharisees in the time of Jesus. Like Jesus, the Pharisees also came from the region of Galilee after returning from their captivity in Babylon.  We’ve written before about the Sanhedrin, the 70 (or 72) members of the ruling council in Jerusalem. This had its roots from the time of Moses (Num 11:16). In the time of Jesus 65 seats were occupied by the Sadducees and only 5 by the Pharisees. Among these were Niccodemus, Joseph of Aramathea (the son of Matthat ben Levi of Arimathea, and the younger brother of the Joachim/Heli who was the father of Mary. Thus he was Mary’s uncle and by Jewish law may have become the guardian of Mary and Jesus after the death of Joseph), and Gamaliel who tutored Saul (Paul) CR Acts 5:29, 38-39; 22:3. These men were probably followers of Christ or perhaps only appreciative and respectful of Jesus. There were however two schools of Pharisees in Jesus time – the school of Shammai was more strict than the school of Hillel (the grandfather of Gamaliel), which permitted divorce for almost any cause, was more lax and had been followed by many of the Jews. While in general the Pharisees were the most pious of the Jewish ruling class (the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots) it was the Sadducees who taught that God should only be worshiped in the temple, the Pharisees recognized that God could be worshiped wherever His people gathered (CR Mt 18:20, Section 92). Interestingly, there were about 70 family lines listed in the Genesis 10 Table of Nations, and also 70 (72) disciples commissioned and sent out to spread the Good News (Lk 10:1, Section 102a.
  4. The Pharisees were separatists who tried to maintain ceremonial cleanness and sought to avoid defilement and by disassociating from all sinners. See Clean/Unclean.
  5. This parable is for the Pharisees themselves, to teach them something of the grace, concern and will of God and thus evoke a godly response from them, but surely it also warmed the hearts of all those sinners who had gathered to hear Jesus.
  6. By his story Jesus is not so concerned about how they were lost, as he is conveying the value of each sheep (Ezek 34:31), and that the owner knows they are lost (Jn 10:15-16, 26-28). If the Pharisees hadn’t been so preoccupied with their defense (Jer 50:6; Ezek 34:8; Isa 53:6; Ps 119:176), they might have heeded Jesus’ lesson for humility, mercy, compassion and spiritual responsibility as well as have heard a parallel and a promise of the Messianic fulfillment of Ezek 34:11-12,16. CR 1Pt 2:25.
  7. CR 2Pet 3:9
  8. James Fowler said, “Joy (chara) is the attitude and expression that results only from experiencing the grace (charis)”
  9. This woman was poor (a drachma was equivalent to one days wage) among the lower class folks whom the pharisees may have included in their initial murmuring.
  10. Even though in this parable God has nine of the ten coins, He wants all of them. Jesus told the pharisees this parable to encourage them to participate with God in the mission of reconciling the world to himself. CR. 2Cor 5:11-21.
  11. Notice that even the celebration is in community. All the reconciled and restored in relationship to God are rejoicing.
  12. The younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners while the older son represents the Pharisees and scribes. The Older Son (Pharisees and Scribes) are depicted as: Unforgiving (15:29), Judgmental (15:30), insisting that the grace God has its limits (15:29),  neglecting the inheritance that is due others (15:31), Lacking justice (15:28-31). The Younger Son (Tax Collectors and Sinners): Initially resisting the grace of God (15:12), choosing to live on their own terms (15:13), then coming to repent (15:20), submit to the will of the Father (15:21), and rejoice in the new found and unexpected grace and forgiveness of the father (15:24).
  13. Especially, in the wealthy ruling Jewish class this behavior would have been possible and frowned upon as birthrights, posterity and the family pride was at stake. While the Pharisees there should have related to the notion having been descendants of those who returned from Babylon, it appears that they were not convinced so Jesus continued the story to speak of humility, love and grace.
  14. Jesus is stressing his point here, challenging their desire to maintain purity at the expense of the well being of others.
  15. Those who believe are children of God, forever loved – heirs of God’s riches. CR. 1Cor 6:11; 2Cor. 3:5; Tit 2:11; 3:3-7; Rom 3:28; 4:4,16; 5:1-2,15-21; 8:17; James 2:5; Gal 4:7.
  16. Like the older brother and Jonah the Pharisees there seemed to question the reasonableness of God’s compassion and mercy to sinners. Read 1 John 3:11-15 and consider the consequences to disunity within the family of God? We receive much more than these – as we are also heirs of grace.  Quoting Fowler again, “Only in the admission of our inadequacy are we free to accept the adequacy of God’s grace”. (CR. 2Cor. 3:5)
  17. Source: OthodoxWiki