Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Luke BTCBThis excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32:

The familiarity of this version of “the old, old story” should not cause the modern reader too lightly to overlook an important reason for its perdurable pedagogical power: it is a précis of the central thesis of the gospel, an emblem of the literary power of Jesus’s teaching, and as much as anything it reveals our need to read and reread scripture in company with the faithful of all ages.

The parable also shows well how at its deepest reach the teaching of Jesus is a species of poetics; its concession to our woodenmindedness is by way of a story that draws us out, teases us into interpretation, only to find that we will need to reinterpret it again and again if we are to approach so much as a semblance of its larger truth and power.

Whether we read it literally, morally, allegorically, or indeed as anagogy or eschatology that sees the divine plan for human salvation in terms of redemption of the lost, calling them to the heavenly banqueting table through the unimaginable mercy and grace of the Father, we are reading through partial understanding a text that nonetheless will always yield truth—as long as we do not reduce it to our own partiality.

Luke 15 is at the very heart of the gospel message. It has seemed to preachers in all times that the parable answers one question definitively, and that is through its depiction of God as a father who “wills not that any one should perish” but that all should come to repentance. In Spurgeon’s hallmark one thousandth sermon, the parable of the prodigal “puts plainly before every sinner . . . the exceeding abundance of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.”

Surely it has very often been preached, as Spurgeon puts it, in the hope “that the Lord will find out those who are his sons, and that . . . as they hear of the abundance of bread in the father’s house, [they] may say, ‘I will arise and go to my Father.'” That is the spiritual level of understanding in this parable that opens the door to all separated brothers everywhere.


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.