I owe this one to my pastor, Pete Chiofalo, and his wonderful message from Luke 15 this past Sunday.
First, I’ll provide a quick interpretation of Luke 15:11-32; then, I’ll comment on how each of the three groups we have been discussing (i.e. core, fringe, and world) are represented in “the prodigal son”.
Luke 15:1-2 makes it clear that the next three stories (i.e. the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) are in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees that Jesus is hanging out with “sinners”. Each of these parables makes essentially the same point: God has great concern for the lost; He will in a sense leave those who do not need finding to look for the lost one; and, God (and all those of like mind) will rejoice greatly when the lost one is found.
Focusing now on Luke 15:11-32, we have a man with two sons. The younger requests his future inheritance ahead of time and leaves the home to squander it; he becomes “lost”. The older stays behind to continue working diligently for his father. The younger “comes to his senses” in v17, which simply means that God has convicted him of his sinful ways and his heart has repented. He returns home to confess his sin, and his father is eagerly waiting for him – rejoicing to the point of throwing an extravagant welcome home party for his “found” son. Meanwhile, the older son is angry, because he felt he had “earned” what the younger son did not “earn” and was given anyway. He was jealous of the father’s forgiveness, grace and mercy toward the younger one.
A plain interpretation of this story is that the the father in the story is God; the younger son represents all of us who have realized our “lostness”, confessed our sin to to God, and received His welcome into the Kingdom through genuine faith in Jesus Christ; the older son represents all of those who have grown up in the church and yet continue to try to earn God’s favor by keeping religious rules, completely missing the importance of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and faith to the point that we look down on (and are even jealous of) those who are received into the Kingdom on the basis of God’s grace through faith alone.
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I’ll bet you know where this is headed. 🙂
What I have been calling the ‘world’ are all of those who are in the same position that the younger son was in while he was away from his family “squandering his estate with loose living”. In verse 17, this younger son moved from the “world” to the “core”. He confessed his sin to the father (v21) and received life (v32). And the ‘fringe’? You got it…the older son. Though he grew up in the same house, he never realized it was grace and mercy that bound him to the father. He always believed it was his efforts. People in the ‘fringe’ typically have “grown up” in the church, hearing sermons on God’s grace and forgiveness every weekend (or, at least every Easter and Christmas). And yet, somehow, their inability to rejoice when the wretched and poor are sought and embraced reveals are heart that was never right with the Lord to begin with.
I’ll end with two questions:
1. How do you act around “sinners”? How do you feel about other believers who seek out “sinners”? What is your immediate reaction when a known sinner walks into your church on Sunday? What will you do to help move people from the ‘world’ to the ‘core’?
2. Do you love those in the ‘fringe’? Or, do you feel superior because you are the younger son rather than the older one? What will you do to help those in the ‘fringe’ move into the ‘core’?
Here’s one suggestion on how to answer each of these: keep reading this blog and engage with your feedback. I have some ‘blue sky’ ideas on how we can help one another do both of these, and I’m going to need alot of help to make it happen!