Posts Tagged With: parable

Luke 15: Two Sons

We have come to maybe my most favorite Bible story of all: the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  That is such a strange name for this parable.  “Prodigal” means extravagant and, while the younger son did live a life of decadent extravagance for a time, it is the father who is the truly “prodigal” one.  And this is as much a story about the older son as it is the younger son.  So let’s call it the Parable of the Two Sons.

I am reticent to say much of anything about this parable.  This is like sacred ground.  You just sit and listen.  You take it in and praise God.  As I see it, this parable is all of the Gospels in a single story.  Maybe the whole Bible.  Definitely the gospel message.  Pair it with Rembrandt’s depiction of the parable and a lot of other words aren’t necessary.  Therefore, I am reproducing Wright’s version of the story in toto instead.

Rembrandt, “Return of the Prodigal Son”

Once there was a man who had two sons.  The younger son said to the father, “Father, give me my share in the property,”  So he divided up his livelihood between them.  Not many days later the younger son turned his share into cash, and set off for a country far away, where he spent his share in having a riotous good time.

When he had spent it all, a severe famine came on that country, and he found himself destitute.  So he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed his pigs.  He longed to satisfy his hunger with the pods that the pigs were eating, and nobody have him anything.

He came to his senses.  “Just think!” he said to himself.  “There are all my father’s hired hands with plenty to eat — and here am I, starving to death!  I shall get up and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, ‘Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.  Make me like one of your hired hands.'”  And he got up and went to his father.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and his heart was stirred with love and pity.  He ran to him, hugged him tight, and kissed him.  “Father,” the son began, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.”  But the father said to his servants, “Hurry!  Bring the best clothes and put them on him!  Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet!  And bring the calf that we’ve fattened up, kill it, and let’s eat and have a party!  This son of mine was dead, and is alive again!  He was lost, and now he’s found!”  And they began to celebrate.

The older son was out in the fields.  When he came home and got near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.

“Your brother’s come home!” he said.  “And your father has thrown a great party — he’s killed the fattened calf! — because he’s got him back safe and well!”

He flew into a rage, and wouldn’t go in.

Then his father came out and pleaded with him.  “Look here!” he said to his father, “I’ve been slaving for you all these years!  I’ve never disobeyed a single commandment of yours.  And you never even gave me a young goat so I could have a party with my friends.  But when this son of yours comes home, once he’s finished gobbling up your livelihood with his whores, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” he replied, “you’re always with me.  Everything I have belongs to you.  But we had to celebrate and be happy!  This brother of yours was dead and is alive again!  He was lost, and now he’s found!” (15:11-32)

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Luke 13: One More Year

I have been reading the Bible for a long time, but I can honestly say I don’t believe I have ever really noticed this parable.

Once upon a time there was a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard.  He came to it looking for fruit, and didn’t find any.  So he said to the gardener, “Look here!  I’ve been coming to this fig tree for three years hoping to find some fruit, and I haven’t found any!  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?”

“I tell you what, Master,” replied the gardener; “let it alone for just this one year more.  I’ll dig all around it and put on some manure.  Then, if it fruits next year, well and good; and if not, you can cut it down.” (13:6-9)

I am amazed by the amount of grace in this little parable.  One man is ready to give up on the fig tree.  The other one (Jesus?) wants to wait just one more year.  One more chance!  That is our God!  Yes, it is grace mixed with expectation.  This fig tree needs to produce.  But, when others are ready to cut it down, Jesus isn’t.  Not yet.

Do we ever write people off too soon?  It seems like this parable is implying so.

What do you think?  

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Luke 8: How Is Your Heart-Soil?

Earlier this week I was looking back through an old journal of mine (before I was willing to share my writing with others) from 2006.  Interestingly, I found that on this very date six years ago I was meditating on the Parable of the Sower from today’s passage.  I share here now what I wrote six years ago.

How did these soils get this way?  The simple answer is that each soil had an owner that created its condition, and in this parable the owner clearly is not God.

The “pathway” heart-soil has become hardened by the actions and choices of the owner and others.  Pathways are picked by an owner as soil that will purposely be trampled upon and rendered incapable of sustaining a crop.  Then these paths are worn through repeated use.  The owner directs others to use that same pathway, and trespassers will even use a path if available.  Habitual sin, misuse of our bodies and souls with others, and even unwanted abuse harden our hearts so that we will not listen to God’s word of truth.  We chose to use what was created to be pure and fruitful in degrading and harmful ways or — in one of those hard to rectify speeches of the Lord — others are allowed to snatch away from us, through abuse, the hope and love and truth we so desperately need.

The “rocky” heart-soil has not been prepared for the long growing season.  Whether from laziness or a desire to see an immediate result from his plantings, the farmer has failed to dig out the rocks that will stunt the growth of his immature plants, causing them to wither in the hot, dry summer months.  These plants are simply unable to reach the deep reservoirs of water below the rocks.  When we move too quickly from one spiritual high to another, trading an emotional high for the disciplines and experiences that really mature faith in the dry heat of suffering and divine silence, we produce heart-soil in which the fledgling sprouts of faith will also quickly wither.  In today’s world, our greatest obstacle to the deep reservoir of Spirit-water is our hunger for immediate gratification.  We are content to soak up the jolt of a worship experience but refuse to learn to control one’s anger.

The owner of the “thorny” heart-soil has also failed to prepare his land for successful growth.  The owner did not pull up the faster-growing, hardier thorns, allowing them to compete with the more tender grain shoots; this owner has simply tried to sow a new crop amongst existing plants.  Given that the thorns are identified as “worries” but also “riches and pleasures” it would seem that some of these thorns have intentionally been left to live alongside the grain shoots.  Both grain and thorns receive rain, nutrients, and sunlight, allowing competition to arise, but the thorns thrive.  When we fail to uproot the attitudes, desires, and behaviors contrary to the Way of Christ attempting only to add Christ to an already hardy life of worry, excess, and selfishness, our immature faith will flounder under the competition.  The Spirit will not live in a divided heart.

The owner of the “good, pure” heart-soil has prepared his plot with wisdom, effort, and patience.  He has removed the rocks and thorns, and loosened any packed soil before planting.  He tucked the seed into the soil away from the birds.  His plants will find moisture and room to grow deep.  His plants will remain free from competition.  We enrich our heart-soil for bountiful growth when we break the bonds of habitual sin; when we use our bodies and souls as they were intended; when we avoid abuse (to the degree we can); when we realize crop preparation is a time-intensive, long-term endeavor; when we patiently foster disciplines that feed our faith and cherish faith-stretching experiences; when we replace worry with trust; and when we uproot a life of selfish ambition and carnal gratification.

Which heart-soil is yours?

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Matthew 22: Dressed for the Party

There were parties aplenty in the early years of high school.  Some not so great, many of them little more than huddles of insecure teenagers waiting for somebody to embarrass themselves or do something heroic.  Given the scrutiny that anyone at one of these gatherings would be under, we all knew it was important how you were dressed.  This was the mid-eighties so we segmented off by fashion — the preps with their pastels and popped collars, the jocks with their letterman jackets and team sweatshirts, the denim and leather crowd rocking a concert t-shirt.  The styles varied, but one thing you didn’t want to do was show up to a party dressed in such a way that you would stick out.  

Pieter Bruegel, “The Wedding Feast”

Matthew 22 starts with another parable, that of the wedding feast.  This is coming to be a royal feast with all of the trimmings.  The king has commissioning the killing of bulls and fattened calves.  He has invited all of his friends to celebrate the nuptials of his son.  The so-called friends snub the invitation and the king’s ire is raised.  So he sends out his slaves into the streets to invite anyone who might like to attend.  Many come and a great feast is had.  

Jesus’ point is clear in this parable.  The upstanding Jews and their religious leaders have been invited to celebrate God’s son Jesus but they have rejected the invitation.  Now, it is no surprise that the rabble of society are sitting down to eat with Jesus — not to mention the Gentiles who will come next.  They gladly received the invitation.  

It is the ending of the parable I took notice of this time:

But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who wasn’t wearing a wedding suit. (22:11)

The king is indignant and has the man thrown out with an empty belly and rejection.  

A bit of background here might help.  The guests who do respond to the invitation appear to be a poorer lot and they were not expecting the party.  They would not have had the appropriate attire readily available.  It also was a custom that a rich host like this one would provide the wedding clothes for the feast.  Thus, if a guest is sitting in the feast without the prerequisite clothes, it is only because he has rejected the king’s clothes and desires to disregard protocol and decorum.  It is this rebellious spirit the king cannot abide.  

What is the appropriate dress for us today as we celebrate the upcoming wedding feast of the Church to the Lamb?

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:13-14)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:12-13)

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

What stood out to you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 21: Taking God’s Property

Today we come to Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants, a thinly veiled attack on the Pharisees (21:45).

A landowner plants a vineyard and rents it out to tenant farmers to care for the vineyard while he is away on a journey.  Harvest time comes and the landowner sends slaves to collect the fruit that is rightfully his.  The tenant farmers kill the slaves.  He tries again with a second group of slaves and the same thing happens.  The third time he sends his own son, thinking they will surely respect him.  Seizing the opportunity to get rid of the heir, the farmers kill the son too:

This fellow’s the heir!” they said among themselves. “Come on, let’s kill him, and then we can take over the property! (21:38).

Jesus asks the crowd what these tenant owners should expect because of their deeds?  Death, at the hands of the vineyard owner.

Let’s remember who the Pharisees were: the religious establishment.  They were the ones to whom God had given the leadership of His people.  But they allow that power to go to their heads and they tried to take what was God’s “property” and make it their own.

We would be a bit naive to think that the same selfish impulse can’t exist in religious people today.  Does God ever give us a farmer’s role and we turn it into a power trip?  Do our churches and Sunday School classes become our own domains?  Does our paycheck become ours?  Do we think our kids are our property?  Do we even think that our life is our own?  Maybe we have not been as malicious as the tenant farmers, but we should heed the warning of their example.

Does this resonate with you?

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Matthew 20: A Kingdom of Rejects

"The Red Vineyard" by Vincent Van Gogh

Today I had one of those “I’ve never seen that line before” experiences.

Jesus tells the crowds the parable of the vineyard workers.  The vineyard owner goes out at the various times throughout the day hiring workers, but then pays all of them the same fair amount — one dinar, a day’s wage.  No one is shorted, mind you.  The owner is extravagantly generous with the workers who came late in the day, especially those who only worked one hour.  Fifty dollars to pick lettuce for a whole day in California’s Central Valley is half-decent if you are a migrant worker; fifty dollars for working an hour in the same fields is a celebration!  This is a wonderful parable of God’s grace, and a sober reminder that there have always been and still are hard-hearted people of God who don’t want anyone to get something they don’t deserve.

"The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard" by Rembrandt (I love the contrast between the come-lately pair in the right foreground laughing about their good fortune and the consternation on the look of the all-day workers grabbing hold of the landowner who seem to feel like they have been cheated)

It is verse 7 that I have never seen before.  The vineyard owner asked the last group of hired workers why they were still standing in the marketplace with nothing to do.  Their response:

“Because no one has hired us,” they replied. (20:7a)

These are the rejects.  The picked-over leftovers.  The pathetic lot who couldn’t get a job earlier.  And the vineyard owner utters the most wonderful words to them too:

“Well,” he said, “you too can go into the vineyard.” (20:7b)

The landowner’s vineyard — God’s kingdom — is a place even for the rejects.  Praise God!

What did you notice in this chapter?  

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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