A Study in
the Gospel of Luke
Notes to aid personal Bible Study
The Parables about the 'Lost' are some of the most well known and best loved stories in the world. These remarkable stories were told because of the contrasting attitudes of Jesus and the religious leaders to the great mass of Jewish people. To the Pharisees, ordinary people were 'unclean', immoral who often did work which was incompatible with the Law. The religious leaders feared contamination and eating with common people implied a 'welcome'. Jesus behaved just as His Father would behave towards such people. He sought their company and even had meals with them. Rabbinical teaching spoke of joy in Heaven when a sinner was destroyed. The Scribes and Pharisees could not conceive of God seeking the lost in order to save them before they had repented. God takes the initiative in restoring humanity and He plans and works before people go to Him pleading for mercy. It's still a problem with many religious folk because they have never come to terms with John's words in his first letter, "God is love". Equally it's a problem for God's people to realise that the contrition of heart that comes with repentance must remain with them throughout their earthly lives. If we would be like God, we must be ready to put aside our self-righteous inhibitions so that we may seek the salvation of all. Like so many things that Jesus said and did, this comes as a challenge to our confused religious zeal that springs from a conceited human nature.
The first of these parables reminds us of Sankey's great hymn that was based on the parable; "There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold". George Adam Smith describes the middle-eastern shepherd as one who is sleepless, far-sighted, weather beaten, armed and leaning on a staff. Barclay describes how a whole community often owned several flocks and would specially celebrate the return of a lost animal. The shepherd who was responsible for the lost sheep (not lamb as in so many stories) would travel many miles through hazardous conditions in order the bring back the sheep that had strayed. Many of Israel's flocks roamed the central plateau but could easily plunge down a cliff as they moved westward toward the great plains nearer the sea. The Good Shepherd who cared so much for the sheep that He was willing to die on their behalf, searched until He found it. For the good shepherd, no sacrifice or suffering was too great. There was no turning back till the sheep was once more safely in the fold and the sheep was never punished or reproached. No religious philosophy in the world matches the Father in Heaven of whom Jesus spoke. He spoke with certainty of what went on in Heaven - rejoicing. How broad and deep is that Divine love.
The shorter parable of the Lost Coin is important. It emphasizes the thoroughness of the search for that which was lost. The woman's coin was precious to her even if of small money value. It may have been a coin saved for her bridal frontlet head decoration, even something of the equivalent of an engagement or wedding ring. The coin may just have been one of a string of ornamental savings of a poor woman. She too was not satisfied till it was found in a room with one small round window and a floor of beaten soil. The third parable is a longer story. It contains so many gospel truths that it has been called the gospel within the Gospel. The younger son's request and receipt of a portion (probably one third; Deut 21.17) of the father's wealth was not abnormal and could be accepted as a gift. Having obtained what he wanted he quickly moved out from the bondage of home life to a bondage far greater ‑ slavery to sin. This was not thoughtless wandering or an accident but deliberate self-centred pride breaking the fifth commandment. Sin is monopolizing God's gifts for selfish use. Now, far away from home he 'lived it up', having a grand time. Soon his money was gone and there was little employment in a country under the scourge of famine. He starved. The carob 'pods' (Keratia) were either the fruit or the seeds of the plant. Feeding pigs was about the most repulsive job that a Jew could do. It was then that 'he came to himself' for up till then he had not been living the kind of life to which he had been brought up. As he pondered his past home life he realised he could trust his father not to refuse him. The first step to repentance is a consciousness of the misery into which he had got himself and the parable pictures God going halfway to meet the sinner and there is immediate forgiveness.
The older son's attitude shows the folly of some religious people. The father had perfect love for both sons and uses tender language to the older boy. The younger son recognised that sin is primarily against God (Heaven is used by some records to avoid the use of God's name) and this is acknowledged in the Old Testament by David's confession (Psalm 51.4). But like other parables this has only one or two lessons to teach and is not a 'theological compendium'. Above all Jesus wanted to teach about God's great love and this He demonstrated as he talked with, and had meals with, ordinary folk who the religious people despised. Jesus had shown that a person away from God was not himself and that Divine love is able to defeat temptation and the voices of rebellion.
(In preparing this study Geldenhuys, Morris, Plumptre and Barclay commentaries of the Gospel of Luke have been used as well as Campbell Morgan's 'Parables and Metaphors of our Lord')