Luke Jewish New Testament and comment David H. Stern

chapter 15
1. The tax-collectors and sinners kept gathering around to hear Yeshua,
Sinners. See Ml 9:10N.

2. and the P’rushim and Torah-teachers kept grumbling. “This fellow,” they said, “welcomes sinners — he even eats with them!”
3. So he told them this parable:
This fellow... welcomes sinners...! All three parables in this chapter deal with God's love for the open sinner who repents. This idea is not unique to Yeshua or the New Testament; here is an excerpt from the Rambam's Mishneh-Torah, Maimonides' comprehensive summary of Judaism's requirements, completed in 1178:

"Let not the ba 'al-t 'shuvah ["Jew who repents/returns to [Orthodox! Judaism"; see Mt 3:2N] suppose that because of the iniquities and sins he has committed he is kept at a distance from the level attained by the righteous men. It isn't so. He is loved as tenderly by the Creator as if he had never sinned. Not only that, his reward is great, since he experienced the taste of sin and nevertheless rid himself of it by conquering his yetzer ["[evil ] i inpulse"]. The sages said, "Where the ba'al-t'shuvah stands, the completely righteous men cannot stand' (B'rakhot 34b). That is, the level attained by the ba'al-t'shuvah is higher than that of someone who never sinned at all, because the former had to strive harder to subdue his yetzer than the latter."

There are significant differences between this paragraph from the Mishneh-Torah and the parables in this chapter. First, the New Testament does not recognize "completely righteous men," except for Yeshua (also see v. 7&N). Second, it does not recognize differing "levels" of persons who have not come to faith in Yeshua — all are equally saved by his death. Third, the New Testament does recognize that the sinner who has been forgiven more will love God more (7:41-43 above). Fourth, the emphasis in Yeshua's parables is not on the penitent's effort but on God's love. However, in Scripture these are two sides of a coin: "Turn us to you, Adonai, and we will be turned" (Lamentations 5:21; see Mt 3:2N).

4. “If one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, doesn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?
5. When he does find it, he joyfully hoists it onto his shoulders;
6. and when he gets home, he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Come, celebrate with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’
7. I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who turns to God from his sins than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.
The sheep metaphor echoes Ezekiel 34.
Righteous people who have no need to repent, literally, "who are such as to have no need to repent." There is joy in heaven over an open sinner who has obvious need to repent and does so at last. But there is also joy over those who have maintained a condition of righteousness by always and regularly turning to God in repentance (1 Yn 1:9), who do not need the thorough and soul-shaking experience of repentance which a lost person, a "lost sheep," often goes through when he turns to God from a life pattern of sin. Clearly Yeshua does not regard the grumbling P'rushim and '/ЪгаЛ-teachers to whom he is speaking (v. 2) as having maintained such a condition of righteousness; so he is trying to shake their mistaken supposition that righteousness can consist in following a set of rules apart from genuinely trusting God in one's heart (compare Yn 9:40-41&NN):

Метафорический образ овцы напоминает Книгу Иезекииля 34.

8. “Another example: what woman, if she has ten drachmas and loses one of these valuable coins, won’t light a lamp, sweep the house and search all over until she finds it?
A Greek drachma was approximately equal to a Roman denarius, a laborer's daily wage.

9. And when she does find it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Come, celebrate with me, because I have found the drachma I lost.’
10. In the same way, I tell you, there is joy among God’s angels when one sinner repents.”
11. Again Yeshua said, “A man had two sons.
12. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will be mine.’ So the father divided the property between them.
13. As soon as he could convert his share into cash, the younger son left home and went off to a distant country, where he squandered his money in reckless living.
14. But after he had spent it all, a severe famine arose throughout that country, and he began to feel the pinch.
15. “So he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.
What is a nice Jewish boy doing, feeding pigs? Well, he's not so nice any more, and, for that matter, not so Jewish either. He left his Jewish father and home and went to "a distant country" (v. 13), where the people were Gentiles and therefore had no compunction about raising pigs. He assimilated himself into that culture, first living recklessly and now of necessity performing that society's less pleasant tasks.

What does it mean to "stop being Jewish"? Consider that the word "Jew" is the English transliteration of Hebrew Y'hudi, from the root "yadah," which means "to give thanks, to praise, to confess openly and freely." To be a true Jew is to be someone who gives thanks to God, praises God, and confesses God, his Word, his truth and his love, openly and freely, who is in a close relationship with him (compare Ro 2:28-29N). This is what Adonui meant when he said to the Israelites, "I will take you to me for a people, and 1 will be to you for a God" (Exodus 34:7).

Assimilation is a serious problem today; intermarriage rates in some American Jewish communities exceed 50%. But the essence of assimilation is not intermarriage, nor is its root cause lack of Jewish education. Rather, it is a lack of closeness to God, obtained truly through his Messiah Yeshua, so that the individual Jew can thank, praise and confess him.

A Jew who comes to faith in Yeshua frequently becomes far more interested in his own Jewishness, not less so. Least of all should one think of assimilation as leaving the Jewish community to become a Christian; on the contrary, accepting the Jewish Messiah Yeshua and believing God's word, written by Jews, is as Jewish an act as a Jew can do.

No Jew has to "feed pigs." He can come home to Father as soon as he realizes he ought to — see the rest of the parable. Raphael Patai cites a Hasidic story with many similar details but in the service of a different moral, the importance of not having "little trust" (Mt 8:26), especially in "hastening the end" (2 Ke 3:12&N):

"A parable about a prince who sinned. And his father expelled him from his house. And he went erring about, aimlessly, in the company of cardplayers and drunkards. And all the time he sank lower and lower. Finally he joined a group of peasant villagers. Of their bread he ate and at their work he worked.

One day the king sent one of his lords to search for his son, for perhaps he had improved his ways and was worthy of being returned to his father's house. The lord found him plowing in the field. And he asked him: 'Do you recognize me?' 'Yes,' answered the prince. And the lord said: 'And what is your request of your father the king? I shall tell him.' The prince answered, 'How good would it be if my father took pity on me and sent me a garment like those the peasants wear, and also heavy shoes which are suitable for a villager.' 'O, you fool, you fool,' cried the lord, 'it would have been better for you to ask of your father that he should take you back to his house and his palace. Is, perchance, anything lacking in the house of the king?'

"Thus they [the Jews] cry, 'Give us this and give us that....' It would be better to request and to pray that He should lead us back to our country and build our Temple, and there we shall have everything we need." (Abraham S. B. H. Michelsohn, Sefer Shemen haTov ("The Book of Good Oil"), Piotrkov, 1905, p. 142, as translated and quoted in The Messiah Texts, p. 79)

16. He longed to fill his stomach with the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him any.
17. “At last he came to his senses and said, ‘Any number of my father’s hired workers have food to spare; and here I am, starving to death!
18. I’m going to get up and go back to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you;
19. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.” ’
20. So he got up and started back to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran and threw his arms around him and kissed him warmly.
21. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son
22. but his father said to his slaves, ‘Quick, bring out a robe, the best one, and put it on him; and put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet;
23. and bring the calf that has been fattened up, and kill it. Let’s eat and have a celebration!
24. For this son of mine was dead, but now he’s alive again! He was lost, but now he has been found!’ And they began celebrating.
The son began his prepared recitation confessing his sins; but the father, reading his heart (16:15&N, Yn 2:25), didn't even wait till he was finished (Isaiah 65:24) before receiving him as fully his son once more.

25. “Now his older son was in the field. As he came close to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26. So he called one of the servants and asked, ‘What’s going on?’
27. The servant told him, ‘Your brother has come back, and your father has slaughtered the calf that was fattened up, because he has gotten him back safe and sound.’
28. But the older son became angry and refused to go inside. “So his father came out and pleaded with him.
Pleaded. The father has not given up on his petulant and self-righteous older son but entreats him lovingly and courteously.

29. ‘Look,’ the son answered, ‘I have worked for you all these years, and I have never disobeyed your orders. But you have never even given me a young goat, so that I could celebrate with my friends.
30. Yet this son of yours comes, who squandered your property with prostitutes, and for him you slaughter the fattened calf!’
31. ‘Son, you are always with me,’ said the father, ‘and everything I have is yours.
32. We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead but has come back to life — he was lost but has been found.’”
The parable leaves open whether the older son will respond to his father's appeal. In present-day reality whether self-righteous people will respond to God's salvation offer also remains open; "it is not his purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins" (2 Ke 3:9).

The parable of the Prodigal Son who leaves his loving father with his fortune, squanders it and then returns home in repentance is so widely referred to that those unfamiliar with the New Testament are often surprised to learn that the story originates here. Some say its only point is that the love of the father (i.e., God) is so all-embracing that he joyfully welcomes anyone who turns to him from sin. Certainly the parable shares this theme with the previous two.

But in vv. 25-32 we see the "older son," who considers himself righteous but rejects his father's generosity by resenting the reason for which it is offered. Some take the older son to be "the Jews" and the younger "the Gentiles," but context makes it more reasonable to think of the older son as anyone who supposes God owes him something, and the younger as anyone who knows he has sinned and therefore throws himself on God's mercy, accepting Yeshua as his only hope for salvation and forgiveness.

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