Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Prodigal 4

continued from here.
The sinners of these parable were not. They were truly "lost sheep" in a clear way. The Pharisees were actually trying to obey. The tax collectors and prostitutes were not. They are of course represented by the prodigal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

In the Parable, one son basically tells his father that he wishes he were dead. He wants his inheritance. The father gives it and the son goes and squanders it in a far away place. Because there are pigs there, we can be assured that this son has left Israel and thus, by implication, has left Israel's God. The elder brother later suggests that he squandered his inheritance with prostitutes. It is unclear whether Luke wants us to add this to his list of sins or if he wants us to think that the elder brother was imagining what he had done.

In Jesus' context, this prodigal son represented the sinners of Israel, those who had gone astray in a very blatant and obvious way. This was the son of the Parable of the Two Sons in Matthew 21 who initially said he would not go work in the field. They were not trying to keep the covenant God had made with Israel in the Old Testament.

These were the individuals Jesus targeted more than any else in his earthly ministry.  How amazing the focus of Jesus' mission was!  He did not focus on Gentiles but Jews (cf. Matt. 10:5-6). He did not focus on all Israel but primarily on Galilee in the north. Even there, he did not focus on everyone but on the "lost sheep," those in Israel who had lost their way. These were people like tax collectors and prostitutes.

Jesus' earthly focus was thus on redemption and reclamation, not so much in a spiritual or eternal sense but in the sense of bringing back to the Father those who had lost their way. This is the restoration of Israel like John the Baptist may have preached but with a focus on those who were particularly off track. It was a ministry of inclusion.

It is interesting to think of any ostracism or ridicule Jesus might have endured as a child, given the possible rumors that his mother had borne him out of wedlock. It would be easy enough given the birth stories of Matthew and Luke to imagine that Jesus grew up amid scandal. How well he then might identify with the outcasts of Israel.

In the rest of the chapter, I want to look at some of the marginal groups on whom Jesus seemed to focus especially. In addition to more notorious sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus focused also on the poor and perhaps even on women. Jesus' focus on healing and exorcism were also a manifestation of this focus, which I will explore more fully in a later chapter.

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