Drawing from parables recorded in Luke 15, the current manual has the goal “to help class members understand the joy that comes when we repent and when we help others repent.” Lessons from the 1947 Gospel Messages class had a similar purpose, drawing on the same scriptural chapter. These lessons may help today’s teachers expand their thinking about these parables to supplement the current lesson. (The text is Carl F. Eyring, Good Tidings to All People. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1946.)
Father Also of the Lost
“Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” (Luke 15:6.)
The scribes and Pharisees complained, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:2.) Jesus was thus judged by His associations, as all must be. But there is a difference between being pulled down by the environment and being the means of improving it. the scribes and Pharisees, and probably some of the disciples, had difficulty in making this distinction and in looking beyond the ritual of the law to the soul of the lost. Jesus might not be able to keep the publicans and the sinners from following Him, they thought, but certainly He need not eat with them. The rabbinical law had definite rules against such an indiscretion. Thus, the attention of the followers of the law was so fixed upon outward signs, that it seemed not to enter their minds that the lost need to be saved, and that this was Jesus’ purpose in associating with them. In this teaching situation Jesus found the need for the parable of the Lost Sheep and of the Lost Coin. These parables are companions, one dealing with pastoral life, the other with household duties.
The Lost Sheep. The shepherd (Luke 15:1-07) counted his sheep. One was lost. leaving the ninety and nine pastured or folded in safety, he went out into the mountains to find the one that had gone astray. There was eagerness in the search, rejoicing in the discovery and tenderness in the carrying of the lost one back to the fold. “And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”
The Good Shepherd. Here again, Jesus would have us see the father through the best in man. god is the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost. Jesus, who speaks of Himself as the good shepherd, also seeks out the lost. For Jesus and the Father, the record of ninety-nine percent is not good enough – even with such efficiency in gathering into the fold, one soul would be lost. None should be lost: in potential, one soul is as precious as another. No wonder, therefore, that “… joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7.)
The good shepherd does not lose his perspective in statistics. He does not let the allurement of near perfection keep him from seeing that individuals are being lost – unless all are saved, some are lost. He does not let averages obscure individual needs and keep him from thinking in terms of individuals. If one individual is lost, there is work, and plenty, to be done.
The Lost Coin. “Between this parable (Luke 15:8-10) and that of the Lost Sheep there are certain notable differences, though the lesson in each is in general the same. The sheep had strayed by its own volition; the coin had been dropped, and so was lost as a result of inattention or culpable carelessness on the part of its owner. The woman, discovering her loss, institutes a diligent search; she sweeps the house, and perhaps learns of dirty corners, dusty recesses, cobwebby nooks, to which she had been oblivious in her self-complacency as an outwardly clean and conventional housewife. Her search is rewarded by the recovery of the lost piece, and is incidentally beneficial in the cleaning of her house. Her joy is like that of the shepherd wending his way homeward with the sheep upon his shoulders once lost but now regained.” [Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 456.]
The Value of the Individual. If God is also the Father of the lost, if no lost sheep is to be overlooked by the Good Shepherd, and if one small coin is worth searching for, then there must be intrinsic worth in each of God’s children. Sensing this fact as one looks into the depths of a starlit night, there comes the alluring yet difficult question: “What is man’s place in the great world of earth and stars and endless space?” Again and again this question arises, especially as one thoughtfully considers God’s creations: the grandeur of a mountain scene, the beauty of a bursting rose; the warmth of a baby’s cheek, and the light in the eye of one beloved. And to every thoughtful person there comes a feeling of humility, a feeling of smallness, both of mind and body, in the midst of that which seems so large and beyond comprehension. yet growing out of this humble attitude comes the warming assurance that the mind which comprehends the rose, the mountain, the earth, or a star, even in the least degree, is greater than any or all of them. Though tiny in his physical size when compared with the earth, though very limited in his sphere of action when compared with the depths of the universe, man as an intelligent being is surely of greater value to the intelligent Creator of the universe.
To be precious, souls would need to have enduring value. They could not be mere incidents in the e4ternal sweep of time, chance creations at the mercy of fortuitous circumstances. Yes, to be precious, souls must show enduring value, and if precious to god, surely He would have a plan whereby they might endure. This plan Jesus was in the process of establishing in the earth. How could He fail, therefore, to include the sinners along with the righteous?
The preciousness of each soul must depend upon intrinsic values, otherwise we would not witness the seeming paradox of worthless persons, as judged by us, being precious to God. What are these latent values? All cannot be listed, but certainly man’s capacity to become a creator in his own right and in his own sphere looms large.
To each of us is given a physical body, the tabernacle of the spirit. Certain processes within the body, such as the heart beat, digestion of food, breathing, we had at birth. yet other processes, such as walking, talking, thinking must be learned. This means that the physical body, before it truly may become an efficient tabernacle of the spirit, must have performed within it by the possessor of it much that is creative. accordingly, within the sphere of his body, each person should have the right and responsibility to act as a creator. This is an essential aspect of the process of living.
In certain environments the forces of compulsion are very powerful. Yet, no matter how hard and exacting the environment, there always will be some opportunity for creative living, especially if the urge for creative expression takes dynamic form. In this area of freedom, however small, a person must be in control of creative processes. Certainly he would not wish to forfeit the precious right of creation by assuming an irresponsible attitude toward living. A well-ordered tabernacle of the spirit results from directed creative effort; a junk pile, from chance action.
But even with chance eliminated, a person may misdirect creative effort. A warped, unbalanced personality results if a life is centered in the physical things of life, if undue emphasis is placed on the physical and temporal aspects of the soul. Physical things must be put in their place but not eliminated. They must be used as means, not as ends. Jesus makes this point clear when He says, “Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”
The most promising field for creative action is in the field of losing the life for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s. such service, rendered without sense of recompense, demonstrates creative expression at its best.
Thus, the intrinsic worth of souls should be made manifest in creative living each hour and each day. There is no reason to postpone the good life, no reason to sit in complacent self-righteousness waiting for the coming of the Lord. Ours is the perpetual responsibility of demonstrating the preciousness of our own souls by building the good life solidly upon the rock.
Our Responsibility. Many souls, like the coin, are lost because of the negligence of others. Should we not, therefore, look about us for jobs to do? The real job before us seems commonplace when stated as we shall word it; but if we do it well, we shall have caught the spirit of the parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. The job is this: Try with all our might to produce a physical, social, and spiritual environment in which a child may grow up to be a normal, successful person, worthy of his birthright as a child of God. This is preventive medicine – still we must always be ready to serve as good shepherds.
Parable of the lost sheep: Luke 15:1-7; Matthew 18:12-14.
Parable of the lost coin: Luke 15:8-10.
Rejoicing for the Return to Righteousness
“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad; for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32.)
In the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, Jesus justifies His association with publicans and sinners. But in the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Elder Brother, He describes a situation which permits the scribes and Pharisees to see themselves, not as the prodigal’s father, but as his elder brother. In this manner, the Master Teacher leads His critics to turn their spirit of criticism into self-evaluation. Many of His listeners were so hardened that they did not get the full import of the parable; nevertheless, they furnished the situation which stimulated Jesus to tell the finest of all parables.
The reader should open the Bible and read Luke 15:11-32. the magnificent story should be read aloud and over and over again. In this way its beauty may be partly sensed. The understanding love of the father for his two sons, makes this the greatest of all stories. the discussion which follows may add a bit to the understanding of the parables, but it cannot add to their beauty.
The Prodigal Son. This son craved freedom, more freedom than he was able to use safely. he scanned the horizon and wished that it might be pushed back. the urge to see life beyond the hills of home was upon him; no longer could he find contentment in the dull life of the farm. Life without restraint became his compelling philosophy of life. The father recognized this inner drive as a sign of potential greatness, but he was powerless to stem the tide of wanderlust without abrogating the boy’s freedom, and this he would not do. So at the son’s request, he gave him his share of the property. The father’s heart was breaking, but what else could be done? Some day the son might come back, wiser and perhaps not completely broken in body and spirit. as the boy left, the father uttered a prayer, and always in his heart he prayed for his son’s safe return.
In a far country the prodigal tested his philosophy of life. All the natural urges of a dynamic youth flowed out without restrain. All family traditions were brushed aside. He would be free at any cost!
The boy did not know life. He had interpreted license as freedom, and soon the so-called acts of freedom netted him nothing but bondage. His urge to be free had taken him unprepared into uncharged paths. He would not listen; he would not be taught, so he must take what comes to the self-willed. And plenty of trouble did come.
At last the greatest of all events arrived. He came to himself. For the first time since he was a small boy, it dawned on him that he might be making a fool of himself by being so self-willed. for the first time in recent years his soul was illumined by a feeble light – he sensed the need of being teachable in the things of the spirit. The lost was on its way to being found. The prodigal resolved to turn back toward the hills of home, to the community where he had been brought up, to the home where he was loved. He needed anchorage, and he hastened home.
The father was expecting the son; he always was expecting him; he had never ceased longing for him. The home had not been complete without him; surely some day the son would return. The great day came; the boy neared home. “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
There was rejoicing and merriment. The lost had returned of his own volition. No good shepherd had searched the mountains for him; no housewife had swept the floor and searched every nook and corner for him. He had returned because he had received the light.
The Prodigal was forgiven. The father forgave him when he left home; each day of his absence he forgave him, and he forgave him now on his return. Not only was the son utterly forgiven, he was also restored. “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” There was to be a newness of life in the home – the lost had been found, forgiven, and restored.
The Elder Brother. this son had not left home to “waste his substance with riotous living.” He was faithful in his duties, and on the day of the prodigal’s return came in late from work on the farm. he saw in his brother only wickedness – a brother who had wasted his substance and had lived riotously.
With such an attitude he approached the scene of merriment. When told that his brother had returned, and that the father was celebrating the event, he would not join the merrymakers, but went out alone. And he was angry, and would not go in; therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends; but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”
“The elder son, deafened by selfish anger, refused to hear aright the affectionate assurance: ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine,’ and with heart hardened by unbrotherly resentment he stood unmoved by the emotional and loving outburst, ‘this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’
“We are not justified in extolling the virtue of repentance on the part of the prodigal above the faithful, plodding service of his brother, who had remained at home, true to the duties required of him. the devoted son was the heir; the father did not disparage his worth, nor deny his deserts. His displeasure over the rejoicing incident to the return of his wayward brother was an exhibition of illiberality and narrowness; but of the two brothers the elder was the more faithful, whatever his minor defects may have been. the particular point emphasized in the Lord’s lesson, however, had to do with his uncharitable and selfish weaknesses.
“Pharisees and scribes, to whom this masterpiece of illustrative incident was delivered, must have taken to themselves its personal application. they were typified by the elder son, laboriously attentive to routine, methodically plodding by rule and rote in the multifarious labors of the field, without interest except that of self, and all unwilling to welcome a repentant publican or a returned sinner. From all such they were estranged; such a one might be to the indulgent and forgiving Father, ‘this thy son,’ but never to them, a brother. They cared not who or how many were lost, so long as they were undisturbed in heirship and possession by the return of penitent prodigals. But the parable was not for them alone; it is a living perennial yielding the fruit of wholesome doctrine and soul-sustaining nourishment for all time. Not a word appears in condonation or excuse for the prodigal’s sin; upon that the Father could not look with the least degree of allowance; but over that sinner’s repentance and contrition of soul, God and the household of heaven rejoiced.” [Talmage, Jesus the Christ, pp. 460-461.]
The Masterpiece. In painting the picture of the father, Jesus painted the picture of God. he is shown, not as giving sanction to either inner or outer unrighteousness, but as a loving Father rejoicing for the return to righteousness. The Master Teacher has painted his masterpiece. [See also, The Prodigal Son, Editorial, Church Section, The Deseret News, August 24, 1946.]
Parable of the prodigal son: Luke 15:11-24.
Parable of the elder brother: Luke 15:25-32.