Throughout our study of Luke, we have witnessed Jesus embrace and elevate a wide swath of people who are “different”—women, people in poverty, people with all kinds of disabilities, people who are foreign, and all manner of people who are socially and spiritually suspect. Yet while the crowds seemed to flock to Jesus for it, the religious righteous resented it. After Luke 14 celebrates God’s inbreaking kingdom as a great banquet where all are invited and desperately wanted, Jesus is criticized for embodying those very attributes and actions in 15:1-2. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
This launches 3 well known stories about lost things—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son(s). With each story the stakes are raised. 1 of 100 turns to 1 of 10 turns to 1 of 2 (and really 2 of 2). Every story involves the deep concern, even compassion for that which is lost. Each story includes wild celebration when that which was lost is found.
Yet the third story breaks the pattern. The thirds story doesn’t end with rejoicing over the lost son that is found. It instead concludes with a heated older brother, angry about the father’s extravagant celebration of the returning younger son.
These stories have always been good news to those who have felt lost, broken, beaten by the world and their own self-destructive ways. God always welcomes back with open arms those who repent, with a feast and fiesta to boot. But that welcome has always served as a warning to the religious righteous. God determines the guest list whether you like it or not. The party is happening whether you choose to join or not—a joyous, raucous affair.
In the end, the truth about ourselves is revealed. We can be just as lost whether we are in a faraway place or never leave home. The question is: as God’s party plays on, where will you be?