By listening carefully to all three parables, and especially to the last one, traditionally called The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus challenges his listeners’ fundamental assumptions about God, sin, and salvation. He gives them an entirely new way of thinking about God, themselves, and the whole world. This week we finished looking at the first two of these parables and took a peek at the third. The sheer totality of sin is illustrated by the sheep and lost coin. A sheep is a 'stupid' animal that is completely helpless when lost. In the second parable the lost object is a coin - which is even more incapable of finding its way home. Salvation is is therefore by sheer grace. There is no cooperative effort here. We are justified purely on the merits of Jesus Christ. We are MADE righteous. We don't earn it. It's been earned FOR us.
Now that we have it, how do we LIVE it? There is a world of difference between earning and living our righteousness. How do we move from being justified to a life of justice? It's hard not to slip back into a Machiavellian mode of earning. There is a restlessness in our hearts for beauty, meaning, notoriety, comfort, approval - whatever gives us a sense of significance, meaning and worth. And the default of the human heart is to seek those things at the expense of God, myself and others. But as Augustine wrote: "Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." Augustine who struggled with women and food realized that abstinence or behavioral compliance to rules was superficial and fleeting. Until he found God beautiful, his heart was restless in it's drunken quest to find it elsewhere.
Which brings us to the final parable of the prodigal son. Here we see two sons who were Machiavellian with their father. They wanted their father's things - not the father heart. And it tore the family apart. This is an illustration of what idolatry does to community and we'll talk more about that - and God's remedy for it next week.