Each week we will offer a reflection on our current series, Piercing the Veil. These reflections will draw us deeper into the parables of Jesus which invite us into a deeper way of encountering the Kingdom of Heaven.
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THE LOST SHEEP
Luke offers us a few of Jesus’ parables in this portion of his story that are meant to challenge the religious elite of his day to recognize that God was welcoming in the least among them to participate in the Kingdom of heaven. The Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son all shows us the way God values us regardless of our status in society - that we are beloved and worthy of pursuit.
The Lost Sheep in particular illustrates how, no matter how far we wander from the fold, God will do everything He can to chase after us and bring us back. Many teachers will point out that sometimes shepherds in the days of Jesus would even break the legs of wandering lambs so they might learn reliance and trust - that they might come to know the shepherd’s voice over time by being carried everywhere by him. Seems there maybe be more to say here about our own journeys with God than the surface would suggest!
I had that all-too-familiar season of wandering when I first launched out on my own in college. It was a revelation and a breath of fresh air to realize I had control over my time and resources (what little they were when I was 17!), and I very quickly ambled away from the things of God in the name of self-discovery for a good year-and-a-half. There wasn’t any major crisis in my time away from God; rather, I came to the slow realization over time that a piece of who I was at my core was not being tended to. I felt like my arm had gone all pins and needles from disuse for too long. I knew I was going to have to come back to Him to find restoration of what I didn’t know I had lost. Looking back, I can see it was as much God wooing me back to him as it was me making a resolution to return.
When I came back to church and to practicing my pursuit of God, I found that He had breathed life into so many pieces of the faith I had grown disenchanted with because I was overly-familiar with them, having grown up in the church. What was old and dusty became the water of life that revived me and brought me back on course. In a way, I received back what I had always possessed, but now it was true and genuine because I had experienced something of life without my Good Shepherd.
- What did wandering away from home look like in your story? In what specific ways have you seen God pursue you? Thank Him for His pursuit of you.
- How does it make you feel to know that all of heaven rejoices when you come back to the fold? Are you able to receive that kind of special attention?
- Who do you know in your life that may be a wandering sheep currently? Ask the Lord how you might help them bring them back to the fold.
This parable is a difficult one. We are at the end of Jesus’ longer diatribe covering four chapters of Matthew that is an indictment against Israel and her rebellious ways. Jesus is speaking in apocalyptic terms about the end of one age and the beginning of another, inaugurated by his crucifixion and resurrection. It may be especially important to notice in the midst of his parables and prophecies in these chapters, that he tells his followers, “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Matthew 24:34). One way of reading this section of the gospel is to understand that Jesus was prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem, and Jewish culture as it existed, because of rebellion against the Roman Empire. We know historically Jesus’ prophecy came true in 70 AD after the Romans lay siege to the city and burned it to the ground. There may be a second layer here that speaks to the end of time, but at the least we must read Jesus’ words in their historical setting for the first century.
The two sets of virgins reflect the female personifications of Wisdom and Folly found in the proverbs of the Old Testament. The inherent meaning is pretty self-evident - the foolish girls weren’t prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom, and with him, the invitation to the party! We can almost imagine this parable being a second scene to the one we looked at this previous Sunday in Matthew 22:1-14. Like that parable, there are those who are ready and waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, and those who, for whatever reason, aren’t willing to make themselves ready - either because of self-righteousness or laziness. It’s a tragedy that their complacency meant they missed the celebration.
What can this mean for us, 2000 years after the destruction of Jerusalem? It’s not too much of a stretch to see that we also live in turbulent and confusing times. It would be all-too-easy for us, like the five foolish virgins, to be lulled to sleep by numbness, fear, or conforming to the surrounding culture. If we fall into apathy in our own day, we too might tragically miss the amazing move of God as his bridegroom son comes to celebrate with us.
- What does apathy feel like in your life? What triggers you to fall asleep or distract yourself from what really matters in life? What are your coping mechanisms for dealing with fear or numbness? Confess these things to the Bridegroom, knowing his desire is for you to be ready when he calls.
- How can you be more disciplined this week to be prepared and stay awake? What disciplines might be the best ways to keep you sharp and anticipating God’s move in your day?
- Paul also challenges us to stay awake: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2). The more we learn to see what God is doing, the more we are thankful. The more we practice thankfulness, the more we are able to see. Take time to practice watchfulness for the hand of God at work, and thank Him for it. Ask for eyes that see and a mind that’s awake.
THE PRODIGAL SON
Our first parable reflection is, from my vantage point, perhaps the most important passage in scripture to understand the heart of God. The story of the prodigal son, his father, and his older brother seems to stretch over the full narrative of scripture while also appealing to each of us on a deeply personal level. Every detail Jesus weaves together in this family drama seems to be perfectly articulated to open us to a story of pride and resentment, wandering away, and the invitation to come home.
This parable is the focal point in our community for engaging with our three primary values: intimacy, identity, and purpose. The way Jesus tells the story properly aligns these pivotal biblical truths - when we prioritize intimate connection with Father God, we learn to inhabit our identities in Christ as sons and daughters, and our purpose as the Spirit-led Church becomes a natural overflow of loving relationship, the same kind of relationship we invite the world to step into.
This week, I want to encourage you to listen back to the three messages from our VALUES series that used the parable of the Prodigal Son as a platform for intimacy, identity, and purpose. These are linked below. Be prayerfully asking the Lord where you might find yourself in the story, and where the invitation is for you to come home.