Home » Biblical Studies » A Better Question is, “Who wouldn’t”: The Prodigal Son in Reflection, Part 3

A Better Question is, “Who wouldn’t”: The Prodigal Son in Reflection, Part 3

lost sheep smallOne of my favorite gags in the old 1980’s TV show, Taxi, has a nervous Tony Danza shaving several times throughout the day to keep himself fresh looking for an important late afternoon appointment. At nearly the last minute he comes down the stairs in the taxi center with his face full of bleeding spots from one last shave. He rushes up to the “straight man” character played by Judd Hirsch and says something to the effect of, “Quick, Alex, do you have a styptic pencil?” Alex, is nonplussed. He says, “What? Do you think I go around with a styptic pencil tucked behind my ear?” Just then, the classic drug hazed character played by Christopher Lloyd, walks up and pulls a styptic pencil from behind HIS ear and hands it to Tony Danza. As Danza rushes away grateful, Hirsch turns to Lloyd and says, “Jim, why do you have a styptic pencil stuck behind your ear?” Jim replies, “In light of what just happened, Alex, a better question would be, ‘Why don’t you?’”

This is the essential meaning of the response of Jesus to the accusations made against him in Luke 15 when he tells the parable of the prodigal son.

In Luke 15:1-3 it says, Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

That “So he told them this parable,” is the big interpretive tipoff. Whatever fanciful or even well-conceived reflection we may make about the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, these are intended as an answer to the accusation “This man receives sinners and eats with them!” or what appears in the other gospels as “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

We mustn’t drift too far afield from this no matter how tempting the richness of Jesus’ imagery is, no matter how many insights into family life we may have, or how many cool representations we think we can find in the points of detail.

Remember these are analogies NOT allegories… and even when we encounter allegories in Jesus’ stories, they are 1st century Rabbinic allegories NOT Pilgrim Progress-ish allegories, NOT Greek allegories.

So, in the face of the present continuum of Jewish leadership’s failure to fulfill their commission as a people called to be a kingdom of priests, to be a light the nations, and their antiseptic self-congratulating trust in their own goodness before God the Father, Jesus decides to school them on the nature of the Father’s heart for all His Children and not just for those who “do everything right.”

Why does Jesus eat and drink with tax gatherers and sinners? Why does Jesus receive them? Is that really the question? Based even on the most basic elements to human compassion, (demonstrated in the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin and lost son) which is an empty shell compared to the compassion of the Heavenly Father, the real question is, “Why don’t they?”

After all, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? (Luke 15:4)

Not only that but, “when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:5)

Oh… and that’s not all… when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ (Luke 15:6)

And for all you lady Pharisee types imagining that your distain for the less deserving is your finest feature, He says, “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ (Luke 15:8-9)

What man wouldn’t? What woman wouldn’t?

The Lost Son… i.e. the Prodigal Son tells us exactly what man wouldn’t, what woman wouldn’t.

For there are few fathers in this world who would not rejoice and show mercy if a wayward child saw the error of their way and came crawling home seeking forgiveness. If we, being selfish creatures, have the heart to show mercy for even the most vial acts when they have been repented from… and, honestly, even when they haven’t been repented from… how much more a capacity for mercy and forgiveness do we imagine that our heavenly Father has for his creatures. If a human shepherd cares so for idiot sheep, whom he has not created, how much more would the shepherd of our souls care for creatures of His own making? If a woman shows such care and diligence for a mere emblem on her bridal veil, how much more meaningful must we be, who were created to be WITH THE FATHER for eternity?

So don’t ask, “Why do you show mercy?” A far better question in light of everything happening around you in heaven and on earth is, “Why don’t you?”

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