Bible Study February 18 for Worship March 10

Bible Study February 18 for Worship March 10

Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons;
12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them.
13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.
14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want.
15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.
17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘
20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet;
23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry;
24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant.
27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’
28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,
29 but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’
31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

COMMENTARY

We like to focus on the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We all long to be welcomed home by the Father. We are forgiven and the party is in our honor. And indeed, as the church reaches out to people outside the church we need to understand that God really, really wants to welcome everyone to come home. But where we in the church can really be helped is if we focus our attention on the elder brother.

The older brother has always done it right. He is responsible, hardworking, dutiful, and when God gives a party to welcome his worthless, irresponsible brother home, the older brother naturally refuses to join in the celebration. This worthless scum of a brother needs to be punished, made to shape up and become hardworking and responsible like the older sibling. Of course the older brother objects to the father’s misplaced generosity. Let’s see if we can understand the older brother, and maybe we will begin to understand how we need to change, if we are going to follow the way of Jesus.

The older brother feels badly for the way his younger brother treated his father. Verse 12 should probably be translated: “old man why don’t you just drop dead, so I can get what’s coming to me when you die!” How could this younger son treat his father so? Surely the poor father was cut to the quick by his younger son’s behavior, and the older boy feels badly for the father.

The older brother probably also resented his younger brother for wasting the family resources. That no good brother took a third of the estate and went out and blew it. Now we can ask how did the older brother know the younger brother blew his money on prostitutes? Is the older brother doing some projecting of his own repressed desires? Frugality and dutifulness are virtues, but for Jesus they tended to be lesser virtues than generosity, love, faithfulness and forgiveness. In another passage Matthew 23:23 where Jesus engages with the self-righteousness of the law keepers he says: “Woe to you, law keepers, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but you have neglected the weightier matters of the law — justice, mercy, love and faithfulness; your minor virtues you ought to have done, without leaving the major virtues undone.”

A clergy colleague used to talk about “hot sins” and “cold sins.” The hot sins are sins of the passions or of the flesh: lust, anger, gluttony, addictions, even sloth. The cold sins are sins of the spirit: greed, envy, pride, self-righteousness, gossip, excessive business. This colleague noted that “good” people like the older brother make a big deal about the “hot sins” of others, but they don’t even recognize the “cold sins,” that Jesus thought were more problematical that the sins of the flesh. One way to explain Jesus’ attitude is that the hot sins tend to get us into trouble. We know we have sinned, and the consequences can drive us to our knees seeking forgiveness. People who commit the cold sins usually aren’t even aware of their self-righteousness and so they seldom if ever seek forgiveness. Sin is sin, but the cold sins often go un-forgiven, because they are un-confessed.

How do we help the elder brother come to the party? How do we give up our resentments of those who we see as profligate, and share in the father’s generosity. Part of our national debate going on centers around the resentment of those who have saved their money and done everything right from a good middle class perspective. Those people who need Medicare, Social Security, Food Stamps and Unemployment are seen as leeches who have been unwise and profligate. They should be punished rather than welcomed to the table by the father. I also see this kind of resentment, when I hear people in the church complain, “can’t you find some new members who have some money?” Or when people object to welcoming “everyone” into the church. The Older Brother in the story ends up being more alienated from the father’s love, than the younger brother ever was. How do we help the older brothers in the church find the forgiveness they need to come home?

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. In the original passage, for whom was Jesus telling the story?

2. How many children did the father have?

3. What did the younger son ask of his Father?

4. After receiving his inheritance, where did the younger son go?

5. What causes the younger son to seek work?

6. What kind of work is he about to obtain?

7. When did the younger son “come to his senses?”

8. When the younger son goes home, what does he propose to his father?

9. What did the father do for the younger son?

10. How did the older son find out his brother had come home?

11. What reason did the older son give for not coming in to the party?

12. How did the father try to convince the older boy to come to the party?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Who in our culture would you compare to the scribes and Pharisees?

2. Who in our culture would you compare to the tax collectors and sinners.

3. Who do you think the Father in the parable represents?

4. Who do you think the younger son in the parable represents?

5. Who do you think the older son represents?

6. When the younger son returns home, do you think he was truly repentant?

7. Have you ever received grace you didn’t deserve?

8. Why do you think the Father welcomes the younger son back home?

9. How might the Father have informed the older brother of the return of the younger son?

10. Do you think the older son was justified in his resentment?

11. The story is unfinished. How do you think the story should come to an end?

Week of March 4 – March 10: Fourth Sunday of Lent – Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – Embracing Love – Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, II Corinthians 5:16-21.

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