The younger son is like many young people in every generation. His breakaway from home was decisive, radical, and with haste. The crisis which the prodigal son experienced was extreme. He bagan to calculate how he could improve his situation by attempting to become one of his father’s hired servants. The son’s motives were less than pure. He did not experience a conversion at this point. His move to return home was not what the Bible knows as repentance. This fact heightens the action of his father in accepting him and restoring him to full sonship. The elder brother no doubt, illustrates the many who have remained nominally and physically in the family of God’s children, but whose participation has been shallow and self-righteous. He mirrors the spirit of relying on the self and one’s good works in formal membership, without grasping the essence of real relationshiop in the family. His lack of appreciation for the father’s joy is a commentary on his failures in this respect (vs 29-31). The loving father is actually the central person of the parable. He is earnest in his desire to have the son back. He typifies the action of grace in receiving the returning son by love and without merit. He is a human being depicting what is God’s grace and love in a much larger sense. God is earnest in his desire to save all people and his patience is beyond human understanding. The whole household joined in the celebration (vs 22,25). The lesson for the church today underscores the need for receiving sinners and for the whole congregation to join in the gladness of heaven over such a recovery: those who are safely in the fold are a treasure to the Father in heaven and of long-lasting joy, but the coming home of one lost sinner is a joy almost without bounds.
This lesson has two parts. The first part (vs. 1-5) makes the point that tragedy cannot be understood as evidence of sinfulness. The second part (vs. 6-9) suggests that the absence of tragedy may be due, not to human righteousness, but to divine patience. The two parts are united by the theme of repentance. The question that is posed to Jesus assumes the ancient view that tragedy comes as the result of sinfulness. Jesus’ response denies any such association and implies that the questioners themselves are guilty of self-righteousness. Since they had not suffered tragedy, they think they are without sin. The incident of the collapse of the tower allowed for the same misinterpretation. Jesus will not allow the equation of suffering and sinfulness and calls his interrogators to repentance. The parable of the fig tree puts the matter of suffering and sin in a new context and invites us to consider the merciful patience of God. Fig trees were usually given three years to mature and begin to produce fruit. The tree avoids a tragic end, not because it is fruitful, but because of a patient vinedresser. The image suggests the way in which the mercy of God extends a second chance even to the most undeserving.
The texts surrounding Luke 13:31-35 are filled with opposition and hostility to Jesus. In the middle of that opposition, Jesus is warned of Herod’s intent to kill him. Herod Antipas was Rome’s minor puppet king of Galilee, whose reputation for destroying any who threatened him had already been established (See Luke 3:19; 9:7-9). But Jesus will not be deterred from his divine destiny by such a “fox.” Jesus’ words are an indication of his sense of mission that included the cross. Jesus will most certainly be killed,but not by Herod. It is to Jerusalem that his destiny leads him. Jesus’ lament expresses both the persistent love of God and the stubborn resistance of humanity. Jerusalem is symbolic of the ill treatment of the divine messengers. Its abandonment represents the condition of any who refuse to receive God’s love, even as Jeremiah had warned (Jer 22:5). Yet there is a hunt of hope in the declaration that Jerusalem will eventually say that Jesus is the blessed one “who comes in the name of the Lord” (13:35).
We are at the beginning of the public life of Jesus. At his baptism he received the Holy Spirit and heard the Father declare him to be his Beloved Son. Soon after, the Spirit drove him into the desert. The temptation story summarizes different moments in the life of Jesus. Jesus is tempted to question the specific mission he had received as the beloved Son from his Father. In all these instances, he chose to remain faithful to his Father rather than to seek some personal glory through spectacular miracles. Satan leaves him for now, but the final temptation will be in Jerusalem, during his passion (Luke 22). The temptations of Jesus recall those of the people of Israel in the desert after they left Egypt. The first temptation reminds us of the moment when the Israelites in the wilderness experienced hunger and murmured. God spoke to them and gave them food (Deut 8:3). Jesus recalls this event and reminds the tempter and all of us that only the word of God is the true food of God’s children (Luke 4:4). The second temptation recalls that Israel was tempted to believe that the gods of their powerful neighbors were greater. The miraculous powers of Jesus could have been an opportunity for him to get glory for himself. But, he reminds the devil that only God is to be served (Luke 4:8; Deut 6:13). Power is a great temptation. We want to be powerful by all means because only powerful people count in our world. But in reality, all power and glory belong to God. The third temptation is to ask God for an extraordinary sign of protection by jumping from the top of the Temple. Jesus reminds us that trying to force God to act in our place, like Israel in the desert before their problem of water, is to put God to the test (Luke 4:11; Deut 6:16).
This month (February) we enter the time of Lent. Lent is the oldest season of the Church’s calendar year. Each week of Lent is reserved for a new dimension of Christian faith. Lent is, most importantly, a time to review and reflect upon one’s own Baptism. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, Christians gather to confess that Christ has not been central in their lives. So, on Ash Wednesday, February 10th, Christians gather to mark their foreheads with ashes and confess their failure to be faithful to Christ. On Ash Wednesday, Christians consider their sinful condition and begin to exercise the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and acts of charity for the next 40 days.
Over 10 groups have told us they are using the 7 Habits of Jesus material during Lent this year. We are keeping you in our prayers and welcome you to keep us informed of your progress!
“Transfiguration” is the translation of the Greek word from which comes our word “metamorphosis,” transformation. Here in the midst of his life ministry, Jesus temporarily transformed into his post-Easter glory and the identity of Jesus is revealed: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” The transformed Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. Why? The answer is to be found in the significance which these two figures had in Jewish thought. Moses and Elijah were both figures of the “end-time,” the final days of history. Elijah was thought of as the last messenger before the end-time, and the deliverer of the end-time was often described as a “prophet like unto Moses.” Also the two figures are representatives of the law and the prophets. What then is the significance of these to figures joining Jesus on the mountain? In the first place, their presence indicates that the end-time is near, that the new age is dawning. But secondly, their presence also points to the status and identity of Jesus. Here, the two other figures of the end-time are swept away, Jesus alone remains, and the voice declares, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v 35-36). He—not they—is the figure of the end, the inaugurator of the new age. Peter reacts to this whole scene by offering to build three booths or tents. His mistake was to make three tents. The figure of the end is not Moses or Elijah, but Jesus alone. And so the other two vanish, and the voice says, “This is my Son…”