Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sunday, From "The Prodigal God," By Tim Keller


"MOST READINGS OF THIS PARABLE (The Prodigal Son, in Luke 15) have concentrated on the flight and return of the younger brother---the "Prodigal Son." That misses the real message, however, of the story because there are two brothers, each of whom represents a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.

It is crucial to notice the historical setting that the author provides for Jesus's teaching....Luke recounts that there were two groups of people who had come to listen to Jesus (tell this parable). First there were the "tax collectors and sinners." These men and women correspond to the younger brother (who squandered his inheritance). They observed neither the moral laws of the Bible nor the rules for ceremonial purity followed by religious Jews. They engaged in wild living. Like the younger brother, they "left home" by leaving the traditional morality of their families and of respectable society. The second group of listeners was the "Pharisees and the teachers of the law," who were represented by the elder brother. They held to the traditional morality of their upbringing. They worshipped faithfully and prayer constantly.

With great economy Luke shows how different each group's response was to Jesus. The progressive tense of the Greek verb translated "were gathering" conveys that the attraction of younger brothers to Jesus was an ongoing pattern of his ministry. They continually flocked to him. This phenomenon puzzled and angered the moral and the religious. Luke summarizes their complaint: "This man welcomes sinners and (even) eats with them." To sit down and eat with someone in the ancient Near East was a token of acceptance. "How dare Jesus reach out to sinners like that?" they were saying...

So to whom is Jesus's teaching in this parable directed? It is to the second group, the scribes and Pharisees. It is in response to their attitude that Jesus begins to tell the parable. The parable of the two sons takes an extended look at the soul of the elder brother, and climaxes with a powerful plea for him to change his heart....

...the original listeners were not melted into tears by the story but rather thunderstruck, offended and infuriated. Jesus's purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin and salvation. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother's moralistic life in the strongest terms. Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong."

-----The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller

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