Luke 15 is a unified chapter, with each story a similar treatment of what it means to seek the lost. What is significant are the differences between the stories, where we see the father address those who although perhaps are lost in some ways, were always a part of the father. This oneness with the father should therefore affect how they—and we—look to those who are lost.
Our chapter opens with another situation where the Pharisees and teachers of the law are closely watching Jesus. At this point in the gospel, we should come to expect such a response. What is interesting is the fact that the people the Pharisees considered “sinners” were people who did not act in the way they expected them to rather than sinners in the sense of having moral failings. We might not even list them as “sinners,” per se. We, like the Pharisees, might consider people who did not act like us or hold similar beliefs to us as being on the “outside” of our circle. This is an important distinction as we prepare to look at these three stories. Who is an outsider to you?
All three of the stories need to be compared to one another. I believe the impact and meaning of the stories is found in the difference we see in the third story, so I will not spend much time of the first two.
In summary, the first two stories have a similar pattern: someone loses something, there is a frantic search for that something, the object is found, friends and neighbors are called, and there is great rejoicing.
This pattern is repeated in the story of the lost son, but there is an additional element not found in the previous two: the older son—one who is “not lost”—complains about the treatment of those lost but now found. The question for us becomes: why is this individual included in this story?
It does not take much for us to recognize the comparison of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in the first of the chapter with the older brother concluding the chapter. This inclusio helps us realize that the issue here are those who reject “sinners,” or as we have established above, those who are outside our circle. We have to ask ourselves: how do we exclude and seek only those on the inside like, well, us? Is our focus, like the three examples given here, on seeking out those who are lost?
Something the father tells the older son is also enlightening. The father reminds the son that he was always with the father and “everything I have is yours.” It would seem that one of the challenges the Pharisees faced was an understanding of what it means to be a part of God’s family. There is no need to fret your inclusion into the kingdom when you are already in the kingdom. In the same way, the inclusion or seeking of those unlike you does not cheapen your status. You are included and your standing is good. It is the people who do not have this standing that are or should be our focus.
Every week our lessons will include seven questions (really question sets) that you may either pick and choose those questions that best suit your family unit, or you may use one question set for each day.
- If you were the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who do you think you would have expected to be around Jesus? Why do you think the Pharisees and teachers of the law expected these kinds of people? In what ways do we also show righteous indignation when people not like us come to hear Jesus? (Luke 15.1-2)
- What sort of actions would you expect the man who lost the sheep to take? How does this compare to what actually happened in the story? Why was calling his neighbors such an integral part of the celebration for this man? In what ways do we rejoice over the sinner who repents? In what ways can we do a better job of rejoicing? (Luke 15.3-7)
- How does this story about the woman who lost a coin compare to the previous one about a man who lost a sheep? How does it compare to the one that follows about the lost son? Why are the differences of these three stories important for us being able to understand the story? (Luke 15.8-10)
- How do you think you would have reacted if you had been the father in the story of the lost son? As you heard stories of the actions of your son while he was away—assuming you heard some—what do you think you would have been thinking? How sorry do you think the younger son was for his actions? What clues do you see in the text that supports your opinion? (Luke 15.11-19)
- Given all that the son had done, how accepting do you think you would have been to the son upon his return? Do you feel good about accepting back the son without any sort of punishment? What sort of clues do we have about God’s longing for us based on the example of the father in this story? (Luke 15.20-24)
- We tend to look down upon the older son for his reaction, but in what ways have you found yourself acting in similar ways? Based on what we read about the older son, what sort of things do you sense drove him to act in the manner that he did? In what ways did his misunderstanding of being a “son” color his reactions? (Luke 15.25-30)
- What does it mean for us to realize that everything God has is ours? How does this change the way you look at lost people and are motivated to be like God and seek them out? How can you do a better job of looking more toward those who are lost than those who have been “slaving for the father?” (Luke 15.31-32)
Every week this section will list possible activities you and your family unit can do. You may pick one or perhaps do several during the course of a week. All are intended to be suitable for any age.
- What ways do we find Luke using the phrase “tax collectors and sinners” in his gospel? What people would have been included in this description? How do you think we would have reacted to these people, based on what you have seen in Luke’s gospel?
- One of the things that makes the story of the lost son so shocking was the uncustomary manner in which the father reacted toward him. See if you can find any material on what might have been a “normal” response to a son in a similar situation.
- Draw or create a picture that compares the pattern of these three stories. Be sure to include the differences in a way that they are magnified and obvious to all.
- Rembrandt has painted a powerful painting of the story of the lost son entitled “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Find a copy of this picture online and study it. How does this picture help you see this story better? [NOTE: Henri Nouwen has written a book based on this parable and the painting with the same title. You might get a copy of this work and read it, as well.]
- Make a list of people whom the Pharisees and teachers of the law would consider “sinners” today. Also, make a list of those you might consider sinners. How do these two lists compare to one another?
- Place yourself in a place where you have the opportunity to seek out someone who is lost.
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This work by South Plains Church of Christ and Robert A. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attributions-NonCommerical-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. ™ Used by permission. All rights reserved.