Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #18

Posted by Jim F. on May 15, 2007

Lesson 18: Luke 15, 17

Luke 15

I think that it is important to read the parables of Luke 15 together. Consider the setting that Luke gives us in verses 1-2 and then imagine Jesus telling each of these parables in response to what happens in those verses: he hears the Pharisees and the scribes complaining because he eats with sinners, so he tells the parable of the lost sheep; evidently they don’t understand his point because he immediately tells another parable, that of the lost coin—I imagine a silent pause after the first parable, with Jesus waiting for the Pharisees and scribes to respond; they seem not to understand the second one either, so he tells them a third, more complicated parable, the parable that we often call “the Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

Verses 1-2: Why would the publicans and sinners have come to hear Jesus? Why does it bother the Pharisees and the scribes that Jesus eats with publicans and tax collectors?

Verses 4-7: Why does Jesus use the figure of the shepherd so often? Are scriptures such as Isaiah 40:11 and 56:11 relevant? Would the Pharisees have seen a connection to such verses? How is this parable a response to the murmuring of the Pharisees and scribes?

Verses 8-10: Why would the woman have to light a candle to find a lost coin during the day? What would have made finding it difficult? Who does Jesus intend the shepherd to represent to to the Pharisees and scribes, and what does he intend the parable teach them? Who does the woman represent? Is the lesson of the second parable the same as that of the first? Another way to think about these questions: what do the Pharisees and scribes fail to understand when Jesus tells them the first two parables? Do verses 7 and 10 explain how these parables are related? Do they tell us what the Lord wanted the murmurers to understand?

Verse 11: What do you make of the fact that Jesus begins this story telling us that it is about two sons? What does that suggest about the name we usually give it, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”? Does our name, perhaps, change the meaning of the story?

Verse 12: What is the young man asking for? Under inheritance practices of the time, how much of his father’s estate would the younger son receive? In response to the son’s request, the father gives both of the sons their inheritance? What does this mean for the father? The word translated “riotous living” is also used in Ephesians 5:18 (“excess”), Titus 1:6 (“riot”), and 1 Peter 4:4 (“riot”). How is the second son spending his money?

Verses 14-16: What does it mean to say that the second son joined himself to a citizen of the country where he was? How would the Pharisees have responded to the idea that this young man has taken the job of feeding swine? Does verse 16 say that he wanted to eat the carob husks that they fed pigs, but no one would let him? Or does it say that he wanted to eat the husks because no one would give him anything else?

Verses 17-19: “Came to himself” is a literal translation. What does it mean to come to oneself? What does it mean to be away from oneself? Have you ever been away from yourself? How did you come back? What does the son remember about how his father treats hired servants? What does that tell us about the father? Why does the son rehearse what he is going to say to his father? How has he sinned against heaven? How has he sinned before (“in the presence of”) his father?

Verses 20-24: How could the father have seen his son while the son was still a great way off? What does this suggest about what the father has been doing? How long has the father been waiting for the son to return? The word translated “compassion” could also have been translated “pity.” How does the father respond to seeing his son return? Why doesn’t the son finish the little speech that he has prepared for his father? Does the father treat the returned son as he would a hired servant? How does he explain his joy in verse 24? How does that answer the Pharisees’ murmuring? Is that explanation also a reference to Jesus’ coming death and resurrection? Is there any sense in which Jesus has become a prodigal son? Who would Jesus have expected the prodigal son to represent in the Pharisees’ understanding?

Verses 25-27: We have here the second half of the story, about the second son. Whom would Jesus have expected the Pharisees to understand the second son to represent? Why does the second son call a servant to find out what his going on in the house rather than go in and find out for himself? Who was the owner of the house?

Verse 28: Why is the second son angry? Why won’t he go into the house? How does the father deal with the son’s anger?

Verses 29-30: Is it true that the father has not given the older son anything? Do you think it is true that the older son has never transgressed one of his father’s commandments? Is it likely that he has had these feelings about his brother before? If he has, would that have violated his father’s commandments? The older brother says that the younger one has used up the father’s money “with harlots.” Does he know that?

Verses 31-32: When the father says “all that I have is thine,” of what is he reminding the older son? Compare verse 32 to verse 24. Why does Jesus have the father repeat this? How does this parable answer the Pharisees’ murmuring differently than did the previous two?

Luke 17

Verses 1-10: What gives the sayings in these verses unity? In verse 5 the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. How do you think that what he says in verses 6-10 is a response to that request?

Verses 11-19: Is this story related to the parable in verses 7-10? How is it relevant that the leper who gave thanks was a Samaritan?

Verses 20-37: Why would the Pharisees have asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come? What do you think they thought would bring that kingdom? What does Jesus mean when he says that the kingdom doesn’t come by observation? What does it mean to say that the kingdom is within us? How does that answer the Pharisees’ question? Some have translated the Greek phrase as the King James translators did: “within you.” Others have translated the phrase as “in your midst” and others have translated it “within your grasp.” How does the meaning of each differ? Which of those translations seems most likely to you? Why? How are the various things that Jesus says in verses 24-26 unified? Do they have a common theme?

13 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #18”

  1. BrianJ said

    Something very obvious, but I think profound doctrinally, is that each of the parables deal with something that was lost and then recovered. The reason I think that is so profound is that it makes a point about our relationship to God: we were not lost sinners from the beginning of our creation; rather, we were in God’s presence (flock/purse/house, depending on the parable), but now are lost. And because of that, Christ is a “redeemer” and not an “earner” or “gainer.” I know that Jews do not believe in original sin (so this point maybe wasn’t so much for his original audience), but that notion is found among many Christian groups.

  2. Jim F. said

    BrianJ, thank you for adding an important point, that these parables are about being lost and then regained. I think that is at the heart of what these parables teach. I don’t think we have to believe in original sin (though surely we have to believe in the Fall) to understand and learn from that type in scripture.

  3. nhilton said

    Jim, thanks for your work here.

    These two chapters speak beautifully about “Truth Restored” and chapter 17 culminates the restoration of the 2nd Coming. This is timely for SS lessons due to the Mormon.org campaign.

    However ,Chapter 17 confuses me in several places. Maybe someone can help me here:

    v. 7-10, is God ungrateful toward his dutiful servants? “I trow not.” But what is the deeper message here?

    v. 34-36, what does this really mean? Other Christians take it to be an end of the world scenario…can’t remember the name they use…I’m sure you know what I’m thinking of :)

  4. I was looking for the word “rapture.”

    Jim, per your notes on Luke 17:21, don’t forget Joseph Smith’s translation here: “has already come unto you.” I think this is the definitive reading.

  5. BrianJ said

    nhilton: “v. 7-10, is God ungrateful toward his dutiful servants? “I trow not.” But what is the deeper message here?” I think the discussion Robf started about this parable is a good place to look, especially Cheryl’s comments on this point. To summarize: it’s not the servant’s place to ask whether the master is grateful or ungrateful. Also, doesn’t gratitude imply indebtedness? Because God does not owe me anything—out of debt, gratitude, or contract—it means that all I receive from him is through grace.

    Re: v 34-36: “Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” I think the key top these verses is found in the JST that follows them:

    36 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord, shall they be taken.
    37 And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is gathered; or, in other words, whithersoever the saints are gathered, thither will the eagles be gathered together; or, thither will the remainder be gathered together.
    38 This he spake, signifying the gathering of his saints; and of angels descending and gathering the remainder unto them; the one from the bed, the other from the grinding, and the other from the field, whithersoever he listeth.
    39 For verily there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
    40 And there shall be no unclean thing; for the earth becoming old, even as a garment, having waxed in corruption, wherefore it vanisheth away, and the footstool remaineth sanctified, cleansed from all sin.

  6. Jim F. said

    ponderpath, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t notice the JST for that verse. Thanks for pointing it out. However, the JST means something different than the Greek text does. Like others (including some GAs), I don’t think that the JST is always a restoration of ancient text. Often it is a prophetic interpretation of the text rather than a restoration of original meaning. To me that seems to be the case here. So what do we make of the two different ways of reading it: “the kingdom of God is within reach” and “the kingdom of God has already come unto you”? Is that difference significant? Does the audience (Jesus’ disciples, on the one hand, latter-day disciples, on the other) make a difference?

    BrianJ, The parallel to Luke 17:37 is Matthew 24:28, where the word “body” is explicitly “corpse” (“carcase” in the KJV). The image, therefore, is of vultures gathering around a body. Though the image is off-putting, it seems to me that the point of the image is clear: the disciples will be gathered to Jesus as vultures are gathered to a dead body. As verse 38 of the JST makes clear, the JST changes that meaning, taking the body to mean the church, but the image remains the same.

    However, I don’t really understand verses 39-40. What do they have to do with the conversation that has just occurred?

  7. cherylem said

    My friend J Harold Ellens wrote me this about this section of Luke. I wasn’t going to post it, but somehow the JST and Hal’s comments seemed to me to relate, especially in Hal’s when, how, to whom? questions in the body of this paragraph. The when, how, to whom? seem to be at least somewhat addressed in the JST.

    ” Thoughts on the text of Luke 17:34-37: 1. The context is about lost coins or sheep or the like, assiduously sought out and found by the principle figure, 2. These verses specifically are about righteous persons whom God finds in the day of cataclysm and extracts from the travail, as the lost sheep is extracted from potential death. 3. Such cataclysm may be natural disaster as in the days of Noah, or war as in the frequent history of Palestinian Judaism of Jesus day, which Jesus cites here as metaphors for the day of judgment and salvation at the coming of the Son of Man, 3. Jesus’ enigmatic answer in 37 is very funny: a. you will no more be able to miss the meaning of that cataclysmic day than the vultures can miss the dead skunk, b. The disciples ask, “Where Lord?” They should have noticed that he meant it would happen to them and they should have been asking, “When, how, to whom, Lord?” c. The eagles/vultures metaphor was probably meant to be understood upside down: If you see the dead carrion you may expect vultures, that is, if you see all hell breaking loose on earth, look for the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with all the holy angels in the power of the Father. As a child, we had migrant workers from Jamaica in our neighborhood. One night there was a helluva tornado and thereafter an incredible, red sunset, followed all night by vivid northern lights. Being Catholic, the workers were terrified because they quite biblically expected to see Jesus’ Second Coming that night, and were a bit disappointed (and relieved) when the next day was ordinary and they had to work in the hot sun.

    There are some semiticisms in this passage in Luke, which passage is also in Mt 10 and 24 and in Q, but the most important issue is the Palestinian context. 70 CE is a very recent memory and the Jewish ferment is nonetheless continuing versus the Romans. It comes to a head in 135 – the Bar Kochba revolt, which ended Jewish establishment in Palestine.”

  8. brianj said

    JimF: I took the corpse to be the world, the eagles/vultures to be the angels, the bits and pieces of good meat that are taken up are the saints, and the hollow bones are the wicked. So I am reading this differently than you, and perhaps I am wrong but I would like to understand why (the corpse in your reading is the body of Christ, and the saints are the birds). Thus, to me vs. 39-40 (JST) fit right into the conversation:

    “there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,”
    because they have been preserved,
    “And there shall be no unclean thing,”
    because the earth has been cleansed,
    “for the earth becoming old, even as a garment,”
    or, as an animal that has reached the end of its life,
    “having waxed in corruption, wherefore it vanisheth away, and the footstool remaineth sanctified, cleansed from all sin.”
    That cleansing was done by the vultures—have you ever seen a carcass picked over by vultures? it’s very clean.

  9. Jim F. said

    Compare the story in Luke with that in Matthew 24 to see better why I read it as I do.
    I take it that the parable of Matthew 24:27 is an explanation of the previous verse about the coming of the Son of man. Verse 26 gives uses one metaphor for the universality of the Second Coming, lightening that fills the earth with its light: Christ’s coming will touch every corner of the world. Verse 28 gives another metaphor for the same event, vultures being attracted to and descending on a body: all of the righteous will be atracted to him. In both the Greek text and the English text, verse 28 is introduced by a word that tells us what follows is an explanation of what was just said: “gar” in Greek; “wherefore” in English. There is nothing in the text about bits of pieces of good meat or hollow bones, so I don’t include them in thinking about what it means.
    Luke 17 is the same story as Matthew 24, but the JST of Luke 17 makes changes that we don’t find in the JST of Matthew. So the question is how do deal with those differences.
    At first glance, the JST of Luke seems to take the corpse to be the saints as a body, but that makes the two versions in the JST contradictory. In addition, I don’t know what it means for a corpse to be gathered, so I take the body to be that which gathers the saints, that to which they are attracted, namely Jesus: the vultures will be gathered to whatever it is that attracts the saints, and that is the Messiah. Thus, I resolve the problem by favoring the Matthew reading since it makes more sense of both texts (I think).

  10. BrianJ said

    JimF: Thanks for responding! I think you capture the difficulty I am having when you write, “At first glance, the JST of Luke seems to take the corpse to be the saints as a body, but that makes the two versions in the JST contradictory,” because I agree that the wording in Matthew fits very well with your reading. I also admit that I added some details that aren’t in the story (namely, the bits of meat and bone), but I cite my fondness for birds—and vultures in particular—as justification for any wrongdoing (I trust that robf will understand).

    I may be more interested in this than anyone else, but to make the discussion easier, here are the relevant verses:

    Luke

    34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
    35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
    36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord, shall they be taken?
    37 And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is gathered; or, in other words, whithersoever the saints are gathered, thither will the eagles be gathered together; or, thither will the remainder be gathered together.
    38 This he spake, signifying the gathering of his saints; and of angels descending and gathering the remainder unto them; the one from the bed, the other from the grinding, and the other from the field, whithersoever he listeth.
    39 For verily there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
    40 And there shall be no unclean thing; for the earth becoming old, even as a garment, having waxed in corruption, wherefore it vanisheth away, and the footstool remaineth sanctified, cleansed from all sin.

    Matthew

    25 Wherefore, if they shall say unto you: Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: Behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not;
    26 For as the light of the morning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, and covereth the whole earth, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.
    27 And now I show unto you a parable. Behold, wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together; so likewise shall mine elect be gathered from the four quarters of the earth.

    Just a note that the wherefore/gar in verse 28 KJV that serves to link the two parables (lightning and vultures) is removed in the JST (which is numbered as verse 27 JST). So I’m not sure that, as you put it, “Verse

    28 gives another metaphor for the same event.” The gathering of the saints and the second coming may well be two distinct events, one that is necessarily seen by all the world (lightning/second coming) and one that is more subtle although still obvious (vultures/gathering of saints).

    I think the verse that causes the most difficulty is Luke 17:37, where the term “body” is defined as “saints”:

    Wheresoever the body is gathered;
    or, in other words,
    whithersoever the saints are gathered,

    The “or, in other words,” makes “body” and “saints” synonymous (though I admit that I do not appreciate the difference—if one exists—between “wheresoever” and “whithersoever”).

    Continuing with Luke, verse 38 suggests (though, it’s not really clear, is it?) that the eagles are the ones doing the gathering:

    “signifying the gathering of his saints; and of angels descending and gathering the remainder [of the saints] unto them [the saints?]; the one from the bed, the other from the grinding….”

    But the “angels” mentioned in verse 28 might actually be an addition introduced in this explication. If so, then the “eagles/vultures” could be understood to be those saints who are attracted to the body of the saints (which I admit is a strange reading).

    I am also not certain that the word “body” should be read as “corpse” here. I know nearly nothing about Greek, but what I read in Strong’s says that it the word soma can mean living body, corpse, planet, or group. Is it possible that soma in Luke should not be translated corpse/carcass?

    Bottom Line:
    If it weren’t for Matthew, I’d have no trouble settling on a reading of Luke, and I don’t see how the most straightforward reading of Matthew (eagles = saints; body = what attracts the saints (presumably Jesus)) settles the reading in Luke without really forcing Luke.

  11. brianj said

    Yikes! When one has to scroll through a comment, I think it’s probably a sign that the comment is too long or needs to be a separate post—and most likely the former!

  12. Jim F. said

    BrianJ: You show the problem well, and I don’t have any other solution than the one I offered. However, obviously, my “solution” doesn’t really get rid of the problem. Nevertheless, I don’t think it requires forcing Luke as much as you do. I suppose that is the real difference between us, and we’ll have to agree to disagree, though I recognize the reasonablness of what you say.

    As for soma: I don’t think it can reasonably be read as anything but “corpse” in this context. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, though “the basic meaning of soma is still contested,” the earliest meaning (Homer) is “dead body” (7:1025). Later, even when it refers to a living body, it refers to that body in its merely physical aspect (for example, in making contrasts between the body and the soul). It is the word used for Jesus’ body in Mark 15:43. (See also such passages as Matthew 27:52 and Acts 9:40, as well as Mark 14:22 and 1 Corinthians 11:24.) In the NT, especially outside the Pauline letters, it most often means “merely physical body” or “corpse.” Finally, given that vultures are gathering to it, I don’t see how it can mean anything but that here.

  13. brianj said

    Jim F: Thanks for your attention to this.

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