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Parables of the Lost Sheep, of them Lost Coin, of the Prodigal Son
1-7. Parable of the Lost Sheep. See on Matthew 18:12-13. The first of a series of three parables for the encouragement of penitents. It shows the love of our Saviour for the outcast, the despised, and the criminal classes generally. It rebukes the Pharisees, who professed to be shepherds, for their neglect of that part of the flock that most needed their help, and lastly it indicates that the Pharisees are in many respects worse than the sinners they despise. The owner of the flock is our Lord Himself, the Good Shepherd (John 10:14); the flock is His Church, embracing men of all kinds; the ninety and nine are those who seem to be righteous, like the Pharisees; the one sheep that is lost and is found, is all truly penitent sinners. These are represented as one sheep not because they are few in number compared with the others, but to show Christ’s love for each individual soul. The seeking and laying the lost sheep upon His shoulders, are Christ’s work of love in pleading with the sinner, and finally after due repentance bringing him back to a state of grace. The friends and neighbours who rejoice with Him are the angels. ’On no image did the early Church dwell with more fondness than this, as witness the many gems, seals, fragments of glass, and other relics which have reached us, on which Christ is thus portrayed. It is frequent also in bas-reliefs, on sarcophagi, and paintings in the catacombs. Sometimes other sheep are at His feet, generally two, looking up with pleasure at Him and His burden. This representation always occupies the place of honour, the centre of the vault or tomb’ (Trench). The rabbis have a story that Moses, while tending Jethro’s flocks, went after a kid (or lamb) which had gone astray. As he thought that it must be weary, he gently raised it and carried it on his shoulders. God was pleased and said, ’Since thou hast shown pity in bringing back a man’s beast, thou shalt be the shepherd of my flock Israel all thy life long.’
1. Publicans and sinners] see on Matthew 5:46; Matthew 9:11.
7. Which need no repentance] i.e. which think they need no repentance, but really need it more than the publicans and sinners whom they despise. The rabbis divided the just or righteous into two classes, (1) the ’perfectly just,’ or ’men of works,’ who had never in all their lives committed a single sin, and (2) the ’penitents,’ who, having once been wicked, had repented. The Pharisees considered themselves to belong to the former class, as also, perhaps, did the young ruler who said ’All these have I kept from my youth’ (Mark 10:20). How external the Pharisaic standard of righteousness was, may be gathered from the story of the ’holy man,’ who ’never committed one trespass all the days of his life, except this one misfortune which befell him, that one day he put on his head-phylactery before his arm-phylactery.’ For ’phylactery,’ see on Matthew 23:6.
8-10. The Lost Coin (peculiar to Lk). The last parable set forth the work of Christ in seeking and reclaiming the lost, this one sets forth that of the Church. The woman is the Church; the ten pieces of silver are the human souls in her keeping; the lost piece is a soul that has fallen from grace through her negligence. Eager to atone for her neglect, and full of love for her erring member, she lights a candle, i.e. vigorously exercises the ministry of the Word, and by preaching the gospel and by loving pastoral intercourse brings back the lost soul to a state of grace. The sweeping of the house is the vehemence with which she sets about her task, thereby incurring the charge of ’turning the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). Having found the lost coin, she calls upon her friends and neighbours, i.e. not only her faithful members, but also the angels, to join in her joy.
8. Pieces] Gk. drachma, a coin equivalent in value to the Roman denarius (Matthew 18:28).
9. Friends] lit. female friends and neighbours.
11-32. The Prodigal Son (peculiar to Lk). ’This parable, like the two preceding, is intended to show what joy there is in heaven at the conversion of sinners, and, therefore, how wrong the Pharisees were to murmur, because Christ consorted with sinners to convert them’ (Cornelius a Lapide). The father is God; the elder son is just persons, or rather those who think themselves and are thought by others to be such, here, in particular, the Pharisees who ’trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.’ The younger son is all penitent sinners, here, in particular, the publicans and sinners of Luke 15:1, Luke 15:2. The portion of goods (Luke 15:12) is the whole of a man’s faculties and powers, which he ought to exercise and enjoy in his father’s house, i.e. in dependence upon God and in His service, but which the prodigal son demands to have under his own control, to use according to his own will and pleasure. The lack of love and apostasy of heart shown in this demand is soon followed by apostasy of life, for not many days after (Luke 15:13), he gathers all together, i.e. deliberately resolves to devote his whole fortune and all his powers to the pursuit of pleasure, and journeys into a far country, i.e. into the world of sin where God is not, or rather where He is forgotten, and wastes his substance in riotous living, i.e. throws off even the semblance of piety and respectability, and ruins not only his soul, but his health and fortune in extravagance and debauchery. Presently there arises a mighty famine in the land, i.e. his pleasures pall, his friends prove false, his animal indulgences fail to satisfy him. In his distress he goes and joins himself to a citizen of that country, i.e. at first he seeks relief by plunging deeper into sin, selling himself to Satan to kill regret. But he finds no relief. Satan is now his master, and shows his contempt for him by using him as a drudge and a slave. Finding now no pleasure or satisfaction in his sin, and the hunger of his soul remaining still unappeased, he determines to return to his father and to say ’Father, I have sinned.. Make me as one of thy hired servants,’ i.e. place me lowest in thy kingdom. His father sees him a great way off, and goes to meet him, for God meets, nay, almost anticipates, the first efforts of sinners to return. He falls on his neck and kisses him, the kiss signifying the reconciliation between God and man brought about by Christ. The son makes his confession of sin, but does not add ’Make me as one of thy hired servants,’ because he now sees that God wishes to restore him to his full privileges. Then the father says to his servants (the ministers of His Church), Bring forth the former robe, and put it on him (i.e. restore him to his former privileges as a Christian by the ministry of reconciliation), and put a ring on his hand (a symbol of rank and honour), and shoes on his feet (symbolising spiritual freedom, for slaves went barefoot), and bring the fatted calf and kill it (signifying the joy there is in earth and heaven over a repentant sinner, perhaps also the spiritual nourishment which the hungry soul will find in the ordinances of religion which have been so long neglected); for this my son was dead (in sin) and is alive again (by repentance). And they begin to be merry, i.e. to rejoice over the penitent, and to treat him with as much honour as if he had never sinned. The conclusion of the parable graphically traces the character of the elder brother, who represents the Pharisees and persons of their spirit. He is busied in the field (Luke 15:25), i.e. in a round of regular, but loveless, religious observances. He shows anger and jealousy, and that in spite of the affectionate entreaties of his father, who invites him to the festivities, and shows him equal honour and love (Luke 15:28). He shows himself, like the Pharisees, quite unconscious of his own failings, and arrogantly boasts, ’I have never transgressed a commandment of thine’ (Luke 15:29): see on Luke 15:7. He puts the worst construction on his brother’s past sins, perhaps exaggerating them (Luke 15:30), and shows himself incapable of forgiveness (Luke 15:30).
The parable may be suitably applied to illustrate the relations of Jew and Gentile (the Jew being the elder, the Gentile the younger son), but this is not its primary meaning.
12. Give me the portion] according to Jewish law, one-half of what the eldest received (Deuteronomy 21:17). He may have had a right to demand his property before his father’s death. ’We have here perhaps a survival of that condition of society in which testaments “took effect immediately on execution, were not secret, and were not revocable,” and in which it was customary for a father, when his powers were failing, to abdicate and surrender his property to his sons: cp. Sirach 33:19-23.’
15. To a citizen] i.e. Satan, or some companion more wicked than himself.
16. He would fain have filled] i.e. and did so. Husks] i.e. the pods of the carob-tree, eaten only by the very poorest people. And no man gave unto him] food of any kind.
19. Hired servants] i.e. imperfect Christians, who perform their duties to God in the spirit of hirelings rather than of sons.
22. The best robe] or, rather, ’the former robe,’ i.e. the state of grace in which he was before his sin. In its Christian application the robe of baptismal innocence, because in baptism we ’put on Christ’ as a garment (Galatians 3:27).
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Luke 15". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12