Summary: The story of one man’s journey on the road to hell interrupted.
The prodigal son Luke 15:1-24
Two American tourists were driving through Nova Scotia and as they were approaching Amherst they started arguing about the proper way to pronounce the name of the town. They argued back and forth until they finally stopped for lunch. And as they stood at the counter, one tourist asked the employee, "Before we order, could you please settle an argument for us? Would you please pronounce where we are...very slowly?" The girl behind the counter leaned over and said,
"Burrrrrrrr, gerrrrrrr, Kiiiiiiiing."
You can never escape criticism. Anyone who ever stands up and does something will be criticized. And you’ll be criticized both fairly and unfairly. And if you try to get away from the criticism and rest up you’ll end up being criticized for doing nothing. Criticism is something you can’t escape but it also has a way of bringing out either the best or the worst in us.
I like the quote by Theodore Roosevelt who said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who actually strives to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least knows he failed while daring greatly and his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
And so, when we’re criticized and we will be, we have to evaluate the criticism by what was said, where it comes from and the reason it came. In criticism there is either something to be learned or maybe there’s someone to stay away from. I always remember the words of Benjamin Disraeli who said, "The worst wheel of a cart makes the most noise." And if a critic doesn’t have an audience, they’ll soon move on and find one somewhere else.
If you study through the pages of the New Testament you’ll see that Jesus was constantly the victim of criticism and His worst critics were the religious crowd and these people professed to believe in the same God and the same Bible as He did. And yet, Jesus was always conscious of the fact that their intention was to derail His ministry and to eliminate His influence on the people. At times He rebukes them and other times He tries to teach them and what’s happening in this passage is a combination of the two. And here He responds to these attacks with three of the most wonderful parables in the Bible and His intention is both to expose their ruthless attitude and to give them the opportunity to turn from their sinful ways and to get their hearts right with God. And these parables are the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. And in all three of these parables we get remarkable insight into the very nature of God.
And it tells us in the first two verses who was listening, when it says, “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” And it seems like the greatest difficulty this religious crowd had was that Jesus didn’t just tolerate or put up with the lowlife people of His day but He actually welcomed and ate with them. I mean, He really went out of His way to make people feel comfortable and these were people who had experienced nothing but rejection from every other religious figure.
You see, the problem these Pharisees and scribes had was they considered all these people to be unclean and in their minds to associate with them would make them unclean. They actually followed a Rabbinical teaching that said, "Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the law." And so, they found themselves in a kind of a mess because in order to hear Jesus so they could condemn Him, they had to actually sit around this despicable crowd that they couldn’t stand to look at.
I just want to say a word about the tax gatherers to help us understand who they were. The taxation systems of the antique world were very elaborate and complicated and if you do your own taxes you’ll probably say, “Well, the more things change, the more they’ll stay the same.” The Romans would conquer a country and then rather than get involved in taxing the people they “farmed out” the tax collecting to local contractors and then these contractors hired local individuals to collect the taxes. And rather than just taking what they knew was the government rate, they always took a little extra for themselves. You see, the average person didn’t know what was or wasn’t taxable and so everyone was at the mercy of these tax collectors. And these publicans as they were called were what’s known as the bottom level tax people and they were all hated by the Jews.