Jesus’ parables are full of cultural references, so it can be challenging for today’s readers to grasp the full extent of what Jesus taught. Today’s devotion speaks to that; we read about the Gospel in an excerpt from Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15.
2 Corinthians 5:16–21
Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
Read the propers for today in Lutheran Service Builder.
Western readers need to note that there is (of course) an audience. Nothing out of the ordinary in a traditional Middle Eastern village takes place without an audience. In this case a part of the audience appears in the text. After greeting the son and hearing his response, the father turns immediately to the servants/slaves and orders the banquet. No time lapse to return to the house is suggested or implied. The servants/slaves are naturally a part of the crowd that has followed the master down the street. Everything that is said and done will be repeated in every home in town within 30 minutes at the most. The father wants witnesses because he is sending a signal to the community. As noted, the parable opens with the agony of rejected love (v. 12). But in that verse the pain of the father’s heart is invisible. It has no effect on the prodigal. It is because of the village community that the father’s pain at the end of the story is visible. The son can now see, “He is getting hurt because of what he is doing for me!” If there is no one watching, then the humiliation evaporates and so does the powerful effect on the prodigal. Granted, if the welcome has no witnesses, then the prodigal can still be impressed with the fact that his father has come to him. But in that case, he could easily be on guard for some kind of a trick. Rather it is the sudden shock of his father’s humiliation in public to protect him from the village that triggers the authentic reconciliation that takes place and renders the above mentioned suspicion impossible.
The prodigal is overwhelmed with the scene before him. Granted, the first two parts of the confession are prepared. But as noted, they now have a new meaning. In the far country, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” meant “I have lost the money and I hope to impress you enough (with a good speech) to win your favor for yet another privilege. Give me a chance! I will yet become worthy!” He expected a private discussion. Now he must respond in public. His confession now means, “I am unworthy of this stunning public costly demonstration of unexpected love which has just unfolded before my eyes!” As the prodigal throws away his last “card,” he is abandoning any attempt at solving the problem himself. The son now offers no suggestion for his ongoing relationship to his father. For the first time this broken heart with all of its pain becomes known to him.
The failure of the Law to redeem opens his heart to the Gospel. Like Paul before the Damascus experience, the Law was an attractive solution as to how he would relate to his father until he was confronted with the word of grace incarnate. Then suddenly the Law was powerless to save because the problem was then seen for the first time in its full dimensions. Now for the first time costly grace was perceived, accepted, and became for him a life-changing power.
Devotional reading is adapted from Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15, pages 152–54 © 1992 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Hymn is “God Loved the World So That He Gave” © 2018 Concordia Publishing House.