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Finders' Joy

The parable in Luke 15 rebukes the bad shepherds of Israel, the scribes and Pharisees, by contrasting their lazy grumbling with the joy of Jesus as He feasts with repentant sinners. But it is more than a rebuke: by telling this parable of the lost sheep/coin/son, Jesus invites the Pharisees to share in the joy that God has when the lost are found.

The charge against Jesus from v.2 is that: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” It’s ironic, because at this moment, Jesus is actually sharing a meal with a ruler of the Pharisees. If Jesus refused to eat with sinners, He wouldn’t be eating with the Pharisees. And so in response to such blind hypocrisy, Jesus tells the parable.

The foundation of Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees comes into high relief when Jesus uses the shepherding analogy. Why don’t the Pharisees share finder’s joy? Because they haven’t even gone looking for their lost sheep, much less found them! These bad shepherds are fine with letting sheep wander off, but Jesus would rather die than let one of His sheep be lost!

Even if one sheep isn’t much out of a herd of one hundred, he should still be sought after. But God’s people are not insignificant, and so Jesus shifts the analogy to silver coins, still highlighting the Pharisees’ failure to value what God had entrusted to them. They would have considered a woman to be a fool if she had lost a tenth of her wealth and didn’t seek diligently for it, but their own attitude towards God’s treasured people reveals that they are acting even more foolishly. Because they don’t value tax collectors and sinners, they don’t search for them, and so they miss out on finders’ joy.

In the third and greatest scene of this parable, Jesus contrasts two sons who share one attitude towards their father: “Gimme, and I’ll go.” The first son (representing tax collectors and sinners) acts it out openly; the second (representing the scribes and Pharisees) hides it under a mask of outward obedience. When the prodigal comes to his senses, he returns to the father in deep humility, and offers sincere repentance, which is met with full forgiveness and joyful celebration. But when the older brother sees that the father “receives sinners and eats with them”, he finally reveals that he doesn’t share his father’s joy at all, but has only been obeying in order to get something from his father. His response to his father’s joy shows just how far from the father’s heart he is. But despite the graceless ingratitude of the older brother, the father still pursues him and invites him to the feast.

This is the heart of the parable: how you respond to God’s merciful joy over repentant sinners shows whether you are a grateful forgiven son, or whether you’ve chosen the bitter resentment of someone who considers himself a slave.

Fathers, you are called to be shepherds for your family. Do you seek after them when they stray? And when you correct them, does it end in a lecture, or in laughter? Homemakers, are you seeking the good of your home? When your little ones are lost, do you light a lamp and start sweeping, searching diligently to bring them back to repentance? And does reconciliation end with commands to do better next time, or in happy hugs and celebratory sugar highs?

Learn from the prodigal father: if you want to bring about quick and complete repentance, don’t make your compassion something that needs to be earned. Don’t be slow to offer your embraces and kisses. Turn reconciliation into a celebration!

Prodigals, come to your senses! Learn from what you see here. Remember the Father’s character. Imitate the prodigal’s true repentance, come back to your Father with a humble heart, and receive forgiveness and grace beyond your wildest dreams.

Older brothers, stop grumbling! Do you want God to enforce good behavior on others because you think He forces it on you? Does your jealousy over what you think you’ve earned by your obedience lead you to resent God’s merciful joy? Even though you aren’t a prodigal, you still need to repent; only you need to repent of your “righteousness”; that is, your self-righteousness.

The good news is that Jesus Christ died for sinners, both for the lost sheep that wander, and for the resentful sheep that stay home, and that God forgives all the sheep who flock to Jesus. You have the choice to resent God for allowing sinners like them to come and eat with Him, or you can rejoice along with them that God allows a sinner like you to eat with Him. All of you are eating with sinners; none of you has any grounds for grumbling. So accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, and enter into God’s joy with cheerful hearts.

Posted on Wednesday, March 09, 2016 by CJ Bowen