Jesus’s Parable of the Lost Son
Open Your Bible
Luke 15:1-32, Luke 16:1-31
My favorite hymn is “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” by Joseph Hart in 1759. It has a beautiful backstory, cataloged in Hart’s short autobiography. The hymn’s lyrics, particularly the line “If you tarry till you’re better / You will never come at all,” marked a profound shift in my spiritual journey when I first heard it in college. My childhood faith was one focused on accepting Jesus. This new understanding of my faith was on God’s grace. I was struck suddenly by this hymn, realizing that I could not fix myself enough for God, but that He accepted me as I was because of Jesus. My sin was not enough to keep me away from God; my work and striving were not enough to endear me to Him.
In today’s reading, these two lessons are woven together in the stories of Luke 15 and 16. The first chapter includes the stories of a lost sheep, coin, and son who are found and beloved. The second is the story of the proud son, manager, and Pharisee, who are challenged for their seemingly righteous behavior.
Jesus tells three stories to start. The parables of the lost sheep and lost coin both show a person striving to save a beloved single sheep or coin and rejoicing fully upon finding it. The sheep is one of a hundred, and the coin is one of ten. By emphasizing the value of a single sheep or coin, Jesus shows how His love is specifically for each of us, and how He rejoices over every one of His followers.
The third story is perhaps the most famous: the parable of the prodigal son. This story illustrates the encompassing love of God, which is dependent neither on our sin to reject us nor our good works to endear us. Both sons in this parable need rescue: the youngest from his folly, the eldest from his self-righteousness. The fourth and fifth stories carry the theme of the elder brother further: perception of earthly right behavior and material wealth did not translate to spiritual well-being. The elder brother thought he deserved his father’s love more because of his behavior; the manager and the Pharisees focused their efforts on appearances and wealth over Jesus.
Throughout these two chapters in Luke, God reveals the breadth of His mercy. God’s mercy is for the sinners and the ever-striving saints, who are equally eligible to receive God’s love and similarly incapable of earning it.
This is the beauty of the gospel: it is for anyone who believes. Joseph Hart ends his hymn with a reminder for all of us: All the fitness He requireth / Is to feel your need for Him / This He gives you / This He gives you / ‘Tis the Spirit’s rising beam.