Luke 15, 17
Finding that which is Lost
Jesus found himself again in controversy.
“1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
For the Pharisees and scribes, it was not lawful to sit and eat with the unrighteous. As noted in the Connections blog (see link below) they had a form of shunning that was extremely severe. While in an Amish shunning, the shunned could still eat in the same room with the family (only at a different table), in 1st century Palestine, one could not associate in any manner with sinners. And for many Jews, there were no greater sinner than the publicans (tax collectors). Tax collectors would contract with the Romans to collect taxes from the people, adding a surcharge for their own services. Often, this additional surcharge was extreme (or at least seemed so from the perspective of the tax payer), and so were considered sinners for getting gain as usury (interest) from other Jews.
Jesus expressed his belief in the parable of the 99 and 1 lost sheep. If a shepherd has lost a sheep, he will secure the 99 in the sheepfold (corral), then go out and look for the lost one, until he has found it. The ancient loving link between shepherd and sheep was strong. The sheep recognized their shepherd’s voice and would follow it. If a sheep was missing, the shepherd would know it and seek for it, as if his own child were lost. In reality, sheep wander off as they graze in the mountain pastures. They become easy prey to predators. For a shepherd watching 100 sheep, it would not be hard to have one sheep wander away. However, the rescue is what is important.
According to the early church historian, Eusebius, after returning from being banished and exiled, the apostle John converted and prepared a young man in the gospel. As John prepared to leave for other cities, he charged the local bishop with care of the lad. At first, the bishop taught and cared for him, soon baptizing the young man. Once baptized, the bishop thought the youth would be strong enough to continue in the faith on his own. But he fell in with other youths who took him along in their night time activities, including robbery. Finally pressed into joining their gang, the young man quickly rose through the ranks to be the leader of the robbers. A few years later, the aged John returned to the city and immediately asked the bishop about the youth. The bishop sighed and admitted the child was lost. John instantly left the safety of the town and entered into the dangerous foot hills in search of the lad. The apostle was nabbed by the robbers and brought to the youth, who recognized John and in feeling regret and remorse, tried to flee. But the apostle gathered his energy and caught up with the young man, returning him to the fold once again.
As with Jesus’ shepherd, John went into danger to recover the lamb that had wandered astray. He stood among the wicked, those who should have been shunned, in order to rescue a precious soul. In the parable of the lost sheep, when the shepherd returned he called his friends and they celebrated. We will see this attitude frequently in these parables of the lost. The Lord stated that there would be greater joy in heaven for the lost sheep who repents, than for the 99 who were already saved.
Jesus did not end with that story, but gave another parable of a lost silver piece. The woman had ten silver pieces, supposedly her entire wealth. So in this instance, she lost 1/10 of her wealth. Unlike sheep, money does not walk away by itself. Inanimate objects get lost because they are carelessly misplaced.
The woman lights a candle to aid her in the search. Obviously, for someone whose wealth consists of only 10 silver pieces, a candle would be an expensive item used only on rare occasions. In today’s (April 2011) high silver prices, if the pieces weighed one ounce each, would only add up to $450. Most Americans today owe more than 20 times that amount on their credit cards.
The woman sweeps the house. The floor is made of dirt, and perhaps an occasional wind can leave the floor with a thick layer of dirt. Sweeping allowed her to stir the dirt up enough to possibly find the coin. she seeks “diligently until she find it”. She does not rest until it is found, as it represents a huge chunk of her wealth. On finding it, she also calls her friends over to rejoice with her. Again, the Lord says that there will be great joy in heaven over one who repents.
The Prodigal Son
There is a great series of blogs on the Prodigal Son being done now (April 2011) at the Connections blog. Check it out below.
A wealthy man had two sons. The day would come when he would divide the inheritance between the two. According to Jewish custom, the older son would receive a double portion (in this case, ⅔) of the property. This would normally occur when the father was old and no longer able to work the farm himself. However, out of rebellion, the younger son demanded his inheritance early. This was a shocking thing to do under the Mosaic Law. First, it showed huge disrespect for the father - possibly a crime punishable by stoning. Second, it risked the inheritance. Mosaic Law required that inherited lands remain in the hands of the family from generation to generation. To sell the lands, particularly to a Gentile, was a sin against all of Israel. It didn’t take long for the son to sell the property, after which he departed into a foreign country. He had been shunned by the Jewish community for his actions.
The lad quickly spent his wealth in “riotous living.” You can always find friends when you are willing to foot the bill. But when the money was gone, the friends disappeared. Suddenly, the reality of life was forced upon the young man. No one offered to help him out in his time of trial. No one offered to feed him, as he had fed them. They abandoned him. He was forced to work as a pig farmer’s helping hand. For a Jew, working with pigs was a major sin, as they were unclean. Worse, to eat the slop given to pigs meant you were lower than unclean. You truly were the dregs of the world.
Finally tired of the tragic life he lived, he came to his senses. He remembered the life he once had in his father’s home. Even the workers had a much better living than he did.
"18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants."
He was in the beginning stages of repentance. He turned away from his Father and the faith of his Father. He was unclean, and hoped as a servant to rise above his current circumstance.
“20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
His Father saw him come while he was still a long ways off. Father had been looking for him continuously for years. He never stopped. He always had the hope that his son would return. When he returned, a huge celebration occurred, because the Prodigal Son came home.
In discussing the symbolism of the parable of the Prodigal Son, some things are rather easy to understand. The Father is God. His land is the inheritance he wishes to give to all of us, if we will just choose and follow Him. However, some choose their own path, a path that leads to rebellion. Turning his back on righteousness, the person is shunned, kicked out of the presence of God and family. He quickly moves to the land of the Gentiles, an unclean land whose king is Satan, where they encourage him to sin and waste his life in riotous living. Spiritually empty and starving both in body and spirit, the person is left with the inheritance that Satan provides: the husks that the pigs will not eat. He is literally in hell. And if the Prodigal Son remains in this condition, he will remain in Outer Darkness, with no inheritance whatsoever to speak of. Only in humbling himself and confessing his sins in true repentance, is he able to escape the lands of hell and return to the Promised Land of inheritance.
The Father sees the humbled and repentant child and welcomes him home. There is no deep questioning at this time regarding what he has done with his inheritance. That may come later. Now comes the celebration. As the older and obedient son sulks over the celebration over the lost sheep, the Father reminds him that the inheritance that remains is his. The repentant son has lost his huge inheritance, but still will inherit. How much he ends up inheriting depends on the future. Will he act like a true son, as a servant, or rebel once again? Only when it is the proper time for the Father to divide his inheritance with his children, will they know what is theirs.
In the heavens there are three main degrees or levels of heaven (D&C 76, 1 Corinthians 12:1-4). From these, there are probably many minor levels within. We are all saved from death and hell when we believe and repent of our sins. Then, according to our diligence and faith, we will inherit a kingdom that fits who we have become. If we have been valiant and constant throughout, we will inherit all that the Father has (even as the righteous son). For those who are noble, but not valiant, there is a wonderful reward of glory. And for those who were wicked and only repented when compelled by circumstance to be humble, there is a lesser glory, but still wonderful nonetheless. This is how God loves each of us. I’ve discussed more in detail His grace and love in another blog noted below.
The Ten Lepers
Leprosy is a hideous disease, now treatable and rare in most nations. In Jesus’ day, it was one of the key events that made a person unclean. Unlike touching a dead person or doing something that made a person unclean, leprosy was usually a life sentence. Lepers did not live in regular Jewish cities, but in leper colonies, away from the rest of society. They were unclean personified. Not even family could approach them, for fear they too would contract the disease.
Leprosy causes necrosis or death of the skin and organs. Small sores or wounds on the hands, feet, ears or nose can quickly cause gangrene and the limbs must be removed to preserve life. Lepers were often disfigured by the scaly skin it left behind, as well as from the loss of limbs and facial parts.
Jewish law required Jesus to not approach the lepers. Yet he spoke with them and sent them to the priest, the official responsible for determining if leprosy really had healed, so the person could again be pronounced clean. Along the way, all were healed. Nine went to be pronounced clean, while only one returned to thank the Lord.
The nine received their earthly reward. They did not seek the higher and heavenly reward that heals us from spiritual leprosy. After returning to Christ and receiving forgiveness of his sins, the one man was clean both physically and spiritually.
While we may have to await the resurrection to have our physical disabilities healed, we can be healed spiritually now and every day of our lives by calling upon God the Father in the name of Christ, asking Him to heal us. Admit that you are unworthy to be called his son, and then allow him to take you into his embrace and fit you with a ring containing the family crest. We can be healed through Christ. He can rescue us from an earthly and eternal hell, if we will but stop our rebellion, forgive those who have neglected or hurt us, and allow ourselves to be found.
And when we are found, what great rejoicing there will be in heaven!
Jim F’s Lesson 18 at Feast Upon the Word Blog: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/04/26/nt-lesson-18-jf-luke-15-17/
Connections on the Prodigal Son (several part blog): http://donna-connections.blogspot.com/2011/04/pursuing-father-part-1.html
Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Chapter 23 on John rescuing the youth: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250103.htm
Amazing Grace: How God saves us through Christ: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/04/amazing-grace-how-christs-atonement.html