The Far Country and the Father’s Field

Scripture Focus: Luke 15.17-20
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. 

Reflection: The Far Country and the Father’s Field
By John Tillman

What is the purpose of the trio of “lost things” parables—especially the third and longest in the series, The Lost Son? Why did Jesus tell these stories?

Some interpreters focus on the prodigal’s sins and poor decisions, making the story a preventative tale to scare prodigals straight. Was Jesus trying to scold or scare prodigals? 

From medieval morality plays to modern “Hell Houses,” scaring prodigals straight has a poor history of long-term success in either evangelism or discipleship. It doesn’t do much to cultivate a growing, vibrant, and enduring faith, and it doesn’t seem to have been Jesus’ goal.

Jesus told many stories about punishments in this life and the next. (Matthew 18.6-9, 24.48-55, 25.26-30, 25.41-45; Luke 16.19-31) However, the “sinners” these tales aim to “scare straight” are the wealthy, who fail to be generous, and the powerful, who fail to help the weak.

These three stories answered an accusation. Religious leaders muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15.1-2) They were suspicious of the crowds Jesus attracted and of Jesus by association. “There must be something wrong with his teaching if he spends time with those people!”

The “Lost Things Trilogy” has two simultaneous audiences: the “sinners” and the “righteous.” Jesus extends his hands to both groups, focusing on welcoming rather than warning. To the sinners, these stories say, “You are valued, and God ‘celebrates you home,’ no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done.” To the “righteous,” they demonstrate God’s heart for the lost and they call them to join the celebration.

One group is the brother lost in the far country. The other is the brother lost in his father’s field, refusing to enter his father’s happiness. Both brothers have a distance to cross to come home. The brother lost in hedonism in the far country, makes it home to the father’s embrace ahead of the brother lost in jealousy in his father’s field. (Luke 15.28-30)

We all may be or become one or the other of these brothers. We may become lost in a far country or our father’s field. Whatever lures you away, whether the pleasures of wickedness or the pleasures of self-righteousness, let them go and come home. We have things to repent of, things to leave behind, and things waiting for us in the arms of a loving father. 

Come home to the father, whether you are lost in the field or the far country. Come home and celebrate.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
I have said to the Lord, “You are my God; listen, O Lord, to my supplication.” — Psalm 140.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Zechariah 6 (Listen 2:08)
Luke 15 (Listen 4:19)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Zechariah 7 (Listen 1:57), Luke 16 (Listen 4:27)
Zechariah 8 (Listen 3:33), Luke 17 (Listen 4:22)

Read more about Prayer for Older Brothers
One son refused to stay in the home due to sinful rebellion.
One son refused to enter the home due to sinful unforgiveness.

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The Prodigal Woman

Scripture Focus: Hosea 2.7-8
7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
     she will look for them but not find them.
 Then she will say,
     ‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
     for then I was better off than now.’
 8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one
     who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
 who lavished on her the silver and gold—
     which they used for Baal.

Luke 15.17-18
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 

Reflection: The Prodigal Woman
By Erin Newton

As a writer, I struggle with doubt: “How can I say anything that is new?” The teacher in Ecclesiastes would say, “Yeah. There is nothing new under the sun.” Despite this reality, the Bible often reminds me that some good truths are worth repeating.

Many times in the Old Testament we see themes and stories that find a similar counterpart in the New Testament. We see similar tales of watery depths stilled at creation (Genesis 1.2, 9-10) and at the hush of the waves from the voice of Jesus (Luke 8.24-25). There are temptations in the deserts of Egypt and Israel (Exodus 16.1-3; Matthew 4.1-4). In fact, Jesus often responds to questions, “You’ve heard it said…” implying that some truths are worth telling again.

The prophets’ messages were not random, ground-breaking new realities for the people. They spoke messages that reminded people of the truth they already knew. The call to repentance is an ancient word that still speaks today.

The prophet Hosea uses the image of a wayward spouse to speak about the unfaithfulness of Israel. His message compares the divine-human relationship to a marriage. What is expected in such a relationship? Loyalty, love, commitment, and exclusivity. 

Through this analogy, Israel is revealed as disloyal, unloving, uncommitted, and corrupt. The object of her wayward affection is Baal, the god of her neighbors—a deity depicted as a violent storm god engaged in wars for power. She is compelled by her lust and forgets where her substance and beauty come from.

“Well, good thing I would never be a harlot! Never would I worship an idol!” We convince ourselves that we are too sophisticated to be compared to a scandalous woman involved in idolatry.

But Jesus takes the same message and reconfigures the image. No longer is it a spousal relationship. It is father and son. It is not a woman financially dependent on a man but a son who is already destined to receive a future inheritance. It is not Baal who tempts but greed.

This story hits a little closer to home. It sounds like our own testimonies.

Both the woman and the son follow their passions instead of the Provider. Yet both are received within the arms of the one who has always loved them.

God always loved Israel. The father never stopped loving his son. Christ forever loves you.
There is always room to tell this same story—our story—one more time. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul thirsts for the strong, living God and all that is within me cries out to him. 

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Hosea 2 (Listen 3:48
Matthew 7 (Listen 3:31)

Read more about A Chiaroscuro Parable
Like a Rembrandt chiaroscuro painting, with exaggerated lights and darks, Hosea shows the darkness of sin and the bright, hopeful gleams of God’s love

Read more about Trouble and Hope
How does trouble turn into hope? How does the punishment of disobedience become a beacon of mercy in the wilderness?

Prayer for Older Brothers — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Luke 15.31-32
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” 

From John: Today we revisit this post from 2019 and the prayer for the older prodigal brother based on yesterday’s reading. Every time I read this parable, I’m stunned by the kindness the father shows to both his sons. May he show that kindness to us.

Reflection: Prayer for Older Brothers — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Christ’s parable of the prodigal son could be considered the parable of the prodigal sons.

One son refused to stay in the home due to sinful rebellion.
One son refused to enter the home due to sinful unforgiveness.
One son squandered his father’s wealth.
One son coveted his father’s wealth.
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

Beginning our faith journey, we struggle to understand how God could love us and adopt us into his family despite our sinfulness. But after living comfortably as a member of God’s family, we soon struggle to understand how God could adopt anyone else.

There are limits to what is restored to the son who returns. His inheritance is spent and will not be restored. He will be financially dependent on his older brother. But in every other aspect, he is restored. He is restored to full fellowship, full honor, and full trust. These things are indicated by the sandals, robe, and ring. His identity is restored. His authority is restored. He is not a second-class family member.

Pray this prayer for older brothers. God the Father will come out to you, and beg you to rejoice at the scandalous sinners he has adopted as his children.

Prayer for Older Brothers
God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?
How could such a one be loved?
How could such a one be forgiven?
How could such a one be trusted?

You come out and embrace me, Father.
You invite me to celebrate
The sinful repentant,
The wanderer returned,
The prideful humbled,
The scandalous purified.

Over your shoulder, I see the celebration.
And I remember…
The day you celebrated me, repentant.
The day you celebrated me, returned.
The day you lifted me up when I was humbled.
The day you purified me from my scandalous sin.

The party is not for my prodigal sibling but for me.
The celebration is not for his sins but for your mercy.
Put your arm around my shoulder, Father.
Lead me in, to celebrate mercy shared.
Lead me in, to rejoice for sinners changed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.20

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Exodus 34 (Listen 5:48)
Luke 16 (Listen 4:27)

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Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns

Scripture Focus: Luke 15:3-6
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

Reflection: Beneath the Cross of Jesus — Lenten Hymns
By Jon Polk

In her childhood, Elizabeth Clephane took a keen interest in poetry. As a teenager, she first revealed some of her own compositions to her sister. She drew from a vivid imagination, utilizing imagery, both biblical and natural, as displayed by one of her familiar compositions, the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.”

Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land

A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat
And the burden of the day.

Using beautiful, comforting images of home and rest to describe the cruel, brutal cross reveals the compassionate heart of this lovely servant of God.

Elizabeth Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1830, daughter of the county sheriff. She was frail and in poor health for most of her life and died at the young age of 38 in the nearby town of Melrose.

Even though frail, she was known to have a cheerful outlook on life and spent most of her short years helping the poor and ailing. Elizabeth and her sister contributed much toward charitable causes to benefit the poor, even going so far as to sell their own carriage and horses to give the proceeds away.

She found meaning in life by giving herself for the sake of others in need, reflecting the light of Christ’s love.

Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss
My sinful self, my only shame,
My glory all the cross.

In Clephane’s famous narrative poem, “The Ninety and Nine” (later set to music by evangelist Ira Sankey), the compelling reason for her compassion is clear in the retelling of Christ the Shepherd pursuing the one lost sheep. “Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way? They were shed for one who had gone astray.”

The season of Lent reminds us that not only do we find rest in the cruel cross of Jesus, but his sacrifice compels us to give our own lives away for others. The “ninety-nine” may not need our care as much as “the one.”

Elizabeth Clephane made a difference with her brief life by giving it away. Her hymns were mostly published posthumously, with the editor describing them, “Written on the very edge of life, with the better land fully in view of faith, they seem to us footsteps printed on the sands of time, where these sands touch the ocean of eternity.”

Elizabeth was so beloved by the people of her community, the townsfolk gave her the nickname, “the Sunbeam.”

I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of his face.

Music: Beneath the Cross of Jesus by Indelible Grace Music
Lyrics: Beneath the Cross of Jesus from
Poem: “The Ninety and Nine”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. — Psalm 25.3-4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Exodus 12:22-51 (Listen – 7:31)
Luke 15 (Listen – 4:19)

Read more from Jon Polk: Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Lent purposefully reminds us that we are mere dust, that without the work of Christ and the grace of God, we are all sinners, poor and wretched.

Read more about Involving Christ
Christ is lovingly interested in helping, lovingly interested in knowing, lovingly interested in being involved in our embarrassments, difficulties, and failures.

Waking Up With Pigs

Scripture Focus: Matthew 19.7-10
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 

Genesis 21.13
13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” 

Luke 15.16-17
16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

Reflection: Waking Up With Pigs
By John Tillman

Moses (not God) “permitted” divorce and Abraham sent his “slave wife” away (in tomorrow’s reading) for the same reason. This reason was explained by Jesus generations later:

“Because your hearts were hard…”

God offers grace even for our worst, hard-hearted mistakes in which we misunderstand or disobey him. Abraham and Sarah sought solutions from their own culture instead of relying on God’s promise. They twisted God’s plan to justify sexual exploitation and their sin produced a “slave wife” and a “son of a slave.” 

Their hearts were hard. They did not believe God fully and they rationalized that the ends justify the means. Then their hearts became harder. When they realized their error, they rejected the evidence of their sin by sending Hagar and the child away. Though they hardened their hearts, God did not. God saved Hagar from her situation and blessed the child produced from her victimization.

Each time a person rejects God’s heartfelt invitation, their heart grows a little harder. Each time they look away from his outstretched arms, their sight dims. Each time they tune out his calls and cries to repent, their sense of hearing diminishes.

Even Christ’s disciples missed the point of his message. They thought the solution to the question about divorce was not to marry. 

“If we don’t marry, we don’t have to be soft-hearted.” 

How foolish. The solution is, instead, to become soft-hearted children like our soft-hearted God.

God deals with hard-hearted people throughout the Bible. God is consistently calling, pleading with the hard-hearted to return to him. He holds out love and kindness to coax them. He grants them mercy and grace if only they will return. 

Our hard-hearted errors can be redeemed by our loving God, but the better lesson to remember is that our hard hearts can be softened again. In humbling, shocking moments the hard-hearted can come to our senses like the prodigal among the pigs.

Have Christians awakened to find ourselves among a trampling herd of violent pigs? Are we shocked awake to the shame of our state? Have we recognized our hunger for the pods the pigs are eating? Perhaps, having a taste of the pods can finally turn our stomach and wake revulsion for our wrongdoing.

Let us return to our loving father, quitting the pig-sty, abandoning our stubbornness. Let us humble ourselves, soften our hearts, and return home.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 20 (Listen – 2:39) 
Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)

Read more about Seeking Righteousness
There should be a clear and recognizable difference in the way that Christians interact with social and political unrest because we are not a people of unrest.

Read more about Leaders Against Oppression
May we work to ensure that the powerful are warned not to be abusive. May we live in such a way that others will not be dispossessed.