Homeward Bound

Love is boundless, but not boundary-less.

A shepherd rescues his wandering sheep, and a woman discovers her missing coin—in Luke 15, Jesus regales His audience with palatable lost-and-found stories, drawing them in with familiar, socially acceptable scenes. But confrontation awaits unsuspecting listeners in the third parable, where rebellion abounds and Love must wait, heartbroken but hopeful.

 

Read

To get the most out of this Bible study, read Luke 15. Before you read, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. And above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.

Key Passage: Luke 15:11-32

 

Background

The religious elite consider themselves righteous and, therefore, blessed of God. But they look down on “tax collectors and sinners” and see Jesus’ socializing with them as repulsive (Luke 5:30). In chapter 15, when the Pharisees and scribes again grumble about the inappropriateness of such dinner companions, Jesus tells three parables to show the Father’s delight in finding what has been lost.

 

Reflect

A diverse crowd made up of “sinners,” tax collectors, scribes, and Pharisees hears the Lord’s stories—­about a sheep, a coin, and a son.

  • In broad terms, how are these three parables alike? Now consider the audience—in which parts would the “sinners” and tax collectors see themselves? What do you think Jesus was trying to communicate to them about their inherent value by using those specific examples?

  • Look at Luke 15:2 and take note of the accusation against Jesus. With that in mind, how does this narrative trio address the Pharisees’ and scribes’ disdain for the way Jesus radically included “sinners” and celebrated with them?

 

Continuing the Story

Of the three parables He tells, Jesus dedicates the most time to that of the lost son. Much more than the previous two, this parable plunges the crowd into sensory details—the stench of swine, aching hunger pangs, a warm kiss planted on a dirty cheek—demanding they identify personally with the shame and discomfort of the situation.

  • According to Mosaic law, pigs were off limits for Jewish people on account of being unclean, and rebellious sons were to be shunned not embraced. Why do you think Jesus used such offensive imagery for this particular story?

  • Consider that the previous two parables are culturally appealing—everyone listening would have readily accepted the actions of the shepherd and the woman. What purpose might Jesus have had for ending with such a stark contrast?

 

Reflect

Unlike the shepherd and the woman of the previous parables, the father in the third parable does not retrieve his lost son.

According to Mosaic law, rebellious sons were to be shunned not embraced.

  • Consider that words associated with rejoicing and celebration appear nine times throughout the three stories. With that in mind, reflect on Psalm 16:6, which says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (NIV). Think about your own life—in what areas do you experience an abundance of joy? An absence of joy? What connection do you see between those experiences and your own boundaries?

  • Compared to the diligent search for the coin and the sheep, the father’s inaction seems cold and indifferent, yet his exuberant reception of his son (Luke 15:20-24) suggests otherwise. What does that say about the relationship of boundaries and joy?

  • Read Luke 7:34. Jesus was widely known not simply for celebrating, but for celebrating with “sinners.” From the Pharisees’ perspective, such people deserved only scorn and separation, yet with the Lord, they were found, worthy, and welcomed. How does the storytelling in Luke 15 impact your perception of Jesus’ propensity for “receiv[ing] sinners and eat[ing] with them” (Luke 15:2)?

  • The Pharisees’ strict adherence to a plethora of rules may give the appearance of good boundaries, but their obsession over the inadequacy of others reveals just the opposite. According to Strong’s Concordance, Pharisee comes from the Hebrew root parash, meaning “to separate.” In what way do good boundaries—like the father’s—differ from the Pharisees’ isolationist attitudes and behaviors? Contrast the way Pharisees interacted with “sinners” and the way Jesus did.

  • Boundaries tell us where our responsibility begins and ends. In that way, they free us from the burden of controlling others and instead empower us to live as God has called us to. It’s within these pleasant borders that compassion and kindness toward others flourishes.

REMEMBER Boundaries empower.

 

Revisit

Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.

Boundaries free us from the burden of controlling others and instead empower us to live as God has called us to.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs His disciples to say: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). It’s interesting that in some Christian traditions’ Book of Common Prayer, the verse is rendered in a way that suggests boundaries: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This connection between debt and boundaries can be clearly seen in the life of the lost son—it’s not until he crosses the pleasant boundaries of his father’s property and lives in a foreign land that he experiences the devastating effects of poverty.

  • On a piece of paper, draw two large circles, labeling one “Father’s House” and the other “Foreign Land.” Reread Luke 15:11-32 and write the words associated with each place in the corresponding circle. When you’re done, review both sets of words, and consider your own life: What areas and relationships resonate with the joy, abundance, and acceptance of the Father’s house? What areas and relationships wither from the scarcity, shame, and desperation of the Foreign Land?

  • Look at Luke 15:25-30. How would you describe the older brother’s attitude toward his younger brother? Toward his father? Where in your life have you seen that same bitterness and entitlement creep up? Are there areas where you feel God “owes” you? What would it look like for you to abandon a merit-based relationship and join the house party?

  • As was true for the older son, it’s hard to confront our own selfishness. But consider the father’s response in Luke 15:31: “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Whether we’re coming in from the field or the foreign land, the journey back always starts with repentance and ends with our reassuring Father welcoming us home.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Reading Bible

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What happens to my notes

11 And He said, A man had two sons.

12 The younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them.

13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.

14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.

15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.

17 But when he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;

19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

25 Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.

27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'

28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.

29 But he answered and said to his father, `Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;

30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'

31 And he said to him, `Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.

32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

30 The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?"

2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them."

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'

22 But the father said to his slaves, `Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;

24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.

34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, `Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

25 Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.

27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'

28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.

29 But he answered and said to his father, `Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;

30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'

31 And he said to him, `Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.

6 The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

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