Study Guide: The Light of Love

Sunday December 4, 2016 | Seth McCoy

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

As we move toward Christmas during our Across the Universe series, Seth explores what it means when God, the Creator of the universe, calls us home. This message took a look at what home means, and what we’re being invited in to, as seen through the unique lens of the prodigal son.

Extended Summary:

Few words in the English language evoke as much emotion as the word “home.” From those who don’t have one, or have very negative memories and feelings tied to it, to those who swell with positive nostalgic emotions, the word home creates a deep longing and desire of some sort in most all of us. We all know deep down what it could and should be – a sense of safety and belonging, where one is accepted unconditionally and loved almost irrationally, and a place where everyone is for you every day in every way.

The idea of home evokes a lot of emotion especially around Christmas. In many ways, both physically and spiritually, Christmas is about a journey back home. Home is both location and relationship. Most of us have had experiences where one of these two components is not present and it just doesn’t feel right. Even though we’ve wondered off, God not only gave us a home in the beginning, He has also given us a light to lead us back.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of stories about something getting lost and then found. His audience includes both tax collectors and sinners (who were gathering), as well as the scribes and teachers of the law (who were grumbling). The first two parables of the lost sheep and lost coin were a little more palatable for the teachers of the law as almost everyone can celebrate stories of that nature, but when the heat is turned up with the much more scandalous prodigal son story it exposes their heart.

The father in the story essentially had to tear his life apart in order to honor the request of early inheritance from the younger son. The father’s community would have observed what was happening (selling of land and livestock) and thought he should be ashamed of that boy. The son leaves home and then sometime later the story it describes his losing the wealth through wild living and then eventually coming to his senses. What isn’t spelled out is that in Hebrew culture, this action by the son is equivalent to disowning his family. This would bring a great deal of shame and separation in the family. The culture even had a ritual for cases like this where the father would break a pot on the ground upon an estranged child’s return home as a sign of what he has been broken cannot be put back together. This is what the younger son would have expected, even while he’s putting together his apology and request to be back in the family.

What we as readers sometimes miss in this famous parable is that this invitation to come back home is for both sons. The younger son has created a great physical distance (“far away land”) that must traveled, but we also learn the older son has created a great relational chasm between he and his family (“that son of yours”). Just as the father went out to the younger son as he was still a long way off and welcomes him home with extravagance, we see the father going out again but this time to talk with his older son knowing he’s now in danger of losing him as well. We see the older son’s heart revealed as he tells his father that he’s “slaved” for him all these years with no appreciation. We see that both sons actually wanted the good stuff from their father, but were misled as to where true life actually comes from. The father is inviting both of them back home as he tells the older son “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”

This story and invitation is not only for both sons, it’s for all of us. No matter which son we more readily identify with, or even if we identify with a younger son who has quickly become an older son after receiving grace, this invitation back home is for all of us who have wondered off. The story is left open ended from the older son’s perspective. This is most likely on purpose from Jesus’ standpoint in order to provoke a response from the teachers of the law who were there. Everyone listening has to write their own ending to the story. Jesus’ parable begs the question “how is your story going to end?”

Reflection Questions:

  1. Were there any sections of scripture discussed that need more clarification? What parts did you not understand?
  2. Were any of the principles or ideas new or challenging to how you’ve viewed the story of the prodigal son? How did they confront your currently held views?
  3. Which son do you more readily identify with? What has been your experience of grace from God? Has that changed your willingness to give grace to others?
  4. Regardless of which son you identify with more, spend some time in quiet reflection thinking about “how is your story going to end?” share with others if you feel comfortable, otherwise spend some time journaling what might have been revealed to you.