Each of the gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–have their own way of telling the story of Jesus. The author of Luke gave us a literary epic. We get the whole story of Jesus, from birth to resurrection, with a big chunk in the middle that is focused on Jesus’ public teachings. Luke spends 60% of his gospel on just 6 months of Jesus’ 33-ish year life, but that 60% is just jam-packed with didactic dialogue, parables, and sermons. Our first reading today, from Luke 11, shows up towards the start of that 60%.
This chapter of the book of John is known to biblical scholars as the Appendix. While every copy of John’s gospel that exists includes this chapter—so it’s unlikely that it was added on by a different author, or completely after the fact—it’s clear for literary reasons that the original writer of the gospel of John intended to end his gospel at the end of chapter 20. Jesus rose from the grave, revealed himself to Mary Magdalene, appeared to the disciples, and gave Thomas a chance to test his doubts, then, story’s over. But after all that, just before closing his moleskin journal or rolling up his scroll or whatever they would have done in the first century, John picks back up his pen and begins writing again.
The story that Tim just read is a children’s adaptation of the scripture for today, a parable you may have heard described as the story of the “prodigal son.” The most popular contemporary interpretations would tell you that this is a story about redemption. A young son of a rich man disrespects his father, asking for his half of the estate before his father passes away, then goes off and squanders his inheritance in a time of famine, only to come back running home to dad when things get tough. His dad greets him with an extravagant welcome, and the whole family rejoices. Well, the whole family except that greedy older brother who’s just jealous he’s not getting the same celebration. And so, the common telling goes, God is like the father who welcomes us home when we realize the error of our ways and come back to our senses. But that narrative just doesn’t quite make sense to me.
I was a little puzzled the first time I learned this is the passage for the first Sunday of Advent in Year C. And I must confess, I rolled my eyes a little when Pastor Kelly told me you all would be on the lectionary for Advent. After all, the theme for this week is hope, and somehow—rather than the song of Mary, or the prophecy of Zechariah, or any of the other beautiful passages about hope in the gospels—the lectionary editors left us a passage I have always connected to fear. But after a little meditation and research, I think I see where they were coming from. I believe I now understand how, what some people use as an instrument of fear, we can use as a lesson on hope.