On the way to the cross, we are reminded that not everyone agreed with the kind of people that Jesus spent time with. “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” It is possible that Jesus is crucified not because he claimed to save people, but because he saved the wrong people. The first thing we find in Luke chapter fifteen is a context. We are told who is present. We are told their response. There are sinners and tax gatherers. There are scribes and Pharisees. Some are listening. Some are grumbling. After a clear context, we get content.
We find three parables with a similar theme. The first two parables are very similar. In the first, a man has lost a sheep. In the second, a woman has lost a coin. Both leave the rest of their property behind in order to find what is lost. Both “rejoice” upon finding their lost property. Both call friends and neighbors to announce their good fortune.
When we remember the context, we may suspect that some in the crowd may feel hopeful. But others, well, they grumble. They cannot understand leaving behind all that you have in order to find one lost piece. They cannot justify the reckless celebration.
After the first two parables, it is likely that the grumbling increased. As much as grumblers dislike the idea that it is ok to receive sinners and eat with them, we can be certain that they did not like these stories. But Jesus does not stop there. Instead, he tells a third parable and this time includes the grumblers in the story.
The emotion raises higher in the third parable as the self-centered younger brother sets off and squanders his fortune. As the foolish younger brother returns home. And then as the undignified father runs down the lane and embraces his undeserving son. More as the music and dancing begins. Even more as the father calls for the best robe, a ring, sandals, the fatted calf and announces “let us eat and celebrate!”
Again, it is likely that the grumblers really begin to hate this story when one of them shows up in it. One who does not appreciate the music and dancing. One who becomes angry and resents the father. One who thought he deserved more that he had been given. One who felt that the younger brother may have deserved something different.
We might steal the language of the earlier parables to apply here. “What father, having two sons, would not wait for the lost to return home so that he might show his extravagant love for him upon his return?” We find this story in the middle of Luke’s travel narrative. We get this story on the way to the cross. In the middle of this risky, dangerous adventure to Jerusalem we find a feast. We find an extravagant, lavish, undignified Father heaping gifts on the undeserved and killing the fatted calf in celebration of one who is lost finding his way home.