(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Prostitutes and Prodigals
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
From the start of his ministry, Jesus’ message challenged his day’s religious and political leadership structures. He taught that faith and trust must flow from the inside out, and gave a wide-ranging set of warnings against a “mismatch between…hearts and lives.” Live authentic lives devoted to God, he told his followers. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.”
At the start of this passage, Jesus compared his followers to servants. Good ones are ready to respond to their master’s commands and wishes at all times; bad ones get fired (or, in Roman times, even worse). Jesus was not endorsing those cruel practices, but making the point that choosing to serve God is a matter of eternal life or death. The section ended with a haunting parable—Jesus didn’t seem to give it an ending.
Jesus ended eighteen years of disability for one woman “at once.” Since he did it on the Sabbath, that upset the synagogue leader. To him, her case was no crisis—she’d suffered for 18 years. But for Jesus, that made healing, now, even more vital (verse 16). Still making his way to Jerusalem (verse 22), he mourned over a spirit that loved rules above people. One commentary called verses 31-35 “Lament of the Rejected Lover.”
The watching Pharisees surely weren’t shocked when Jesus again ignored their Sabbath healing rules. But Jesus shocked them in a different way. They loved to talk about the end-time feast for God’s people (verse 15). But in Jesus’ feast story, the chosen said “no,” and God called street people instead! Making him your Lord, Jesus said, is costly. Count the cost before you set out on the Journey.
It was a familiar charge: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” With sinners and tax collectors gathering around to listen to him, Jesus could hardly deny it—and he didn’t want to. He embraced the “charge” with three vivid stories in which finding a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost boy set off big celebrations. To the last story, he pointedly added an older son who didn’t want to welcome the lost boy home.
Jesus told of a swindler whose boss applauded him for his shrewdness in buying off “friends” to watch after him when he’d lost his job. He wasn’t endorsing financial fraud, but asking: if even a swindler can look down the road, wouldn’t you be wiser to use wealth for eternal purposes than for short-term earthly gain? Then Luke shared another “status inversion” story. A rich man ignored a poor beggar at his very gates. But the beggar got to enjoy heaven, while the rich man begged him to warn his brothers away from his hellish fate.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, deliver us from those “things” that try to draw us away from you, our true master. Help us to reach out to others who need your help. Thank you for welcoming us as guests at your table, while continuing to nurture and mold us so that we might yield fruit to your greater glory. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Have you ever been approached by beggars for a “hand out”? How did you feel about that and how did you tend to react? How do you feel about begging in general?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Luke 12:1-34. Is God okay with a half-hearted faith? Why or why not? Describe a life that pleases God. Do you think God cares about each of us in as detailed a way as Jesus described? Jesus repeatedly said not to worry about anything. Really? Does he appreciate the pressures and demands of our everyday lives? If he does, how does he expect us not to worry about financial matters, our health, family troubles, etc.? What kinds of things do most people tend to treasure? How is Christians’ “treasure” supposed to be different?
Read Luke 12:35-13:9. Jesus said his followers are servants. In what ways are Christians servants? How can we know when we are serving God and when we are not? Do the quality and quantity of our deeds adequately measure our godly service? Jesus is “the prince of peace” and yet he said he brought division among people. What did he mean? Have you experienced that division? The last parable in this reading is unfinished. How are you living out your own ending to it?
Read Luke 13:10-13:35. Jewish leaders were constantly emphasizing their rules and regulations, rather than what Jesus said really mattered. How can Christians let abstract religious questions distract them from focusing on what matters most to God? What spiritual practices help you stay focused on what is most important to God? Why do some people seem to put off establishing a faithful relationship with God? What did Jesus say about that?
Read Luke 14:1-35. In verse 11, Jesus said, “All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” How do you interpret this verse? What was Jesus saying when he said the chosen guests wouldn’t be allowed to attend the banquet, but others would? In The Message, verse 14:26 reads, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple.” What does this mean to you?
Read Luke 15:1-32. A basic, but crucial question: Why did Jesus welcome sinners? In the story of the prodigal son, who does the older son represent? How has some part of your life been like that of the prodigal son? What brought you “home”? How do you think the older son’s story might have ended?
Read Luke 16:1-31. In what ways can each of us to be, in God’s eyes, “faithful with money”? How can we be sure that we are placing God above our concerns over money? What does the phrase “selling out” mean to you? What message did you receive in reading the story of the rich man and Lazarus? How much time have you spent in the Old Testament, reading messages from Moses and the prophets? Phillip Yancey called the Hebrew Scriptures “the Bible Jesus read,” and they are important, of course, to fully understanding the New Testament. Do you agree with Jesus that they could have taught the rich man, and his brothers, what they needed to know to live justly and compassionately?
From last week: Did you prayerfully consider how to overcome any self-righteousness in your own life? Did you become conscious of those times when you might otherwise react self-righteously toward others and work to change your attitude and your actions? Please share your experiences with your group.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, March 30, 2014:
Luke loves to show the contrasts between the somebodies and the nobodies….Today’s story is another of those contrasts as Luke tells us about Jesus having supper at the home of a pious religious leader when a prostitute barges in to crash the party.
Let’s begin our study of this story with a word about Pharisees. Pharisees were a particular religious sect—like a denomination—within first century Judaism. There were not a lot of Pharisees—only 6,000 officially according to first century Jewish historian Josephus. But the Pharisees were respected by many, and their philosophy came to play a key role in later Judaism.
The Pharisees were somebodies—respected rabbis, lawyers and religious leaders. The word Pharisee comes from an Aramaic word we think means “separate” which, based upon what we know about them, seems to point towards their efforts at holiness. They were often zealous in their pursuit of the law, particularly the laws of purity. Ritual washing, avoiding contact with anything or anyone that would make you unclean, following the Sabbath laws to the nth degree, ritual washing of hands and body.
There are two inherent tendencies in religion that is focused on holiness: FOCUS ON RULES RATHER THAN PEOPLE AND GOD. This kind of faith tended to make religion all about rules, and pleasing God all about doing enough. The rules sucked the life and joy out of faith. In pursuit of the letter of the law, they often forgot the spirit of the law….
A second temptation for those whose religion is focused on holiness is: SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. It becomes easy to judge everyone else in the light of your standards of holiness, or your interpretation of God’s standards. You end up seeing everyone else’s sins, looking down upon them or judging them, and seeing yourself as more holy than the other….
Luke 7:36, in the Greek, tells us that Jesus reclined at Simon’s table. This is a formal dinner or banquet and the guests are reclining on cushions in a U shaped configuration….While the meal was being eaten a woman walked into the Pharisee’s dining room, and she stood at Jesus feet. She’s learned that Jesus was there, and she’s come to see him. We know nothing of what had happened before this, but we can surmise that Jesus had offered her grace, or shown her some kindness, or healed her of some disease. Luke simply doesn’t tell us. But she’s come to bless him, bringing with her an alabaster flask with costly perfume. Mark and John, in a similar story, say the flask held nard. If so, it was worth about one year’s wages for an average day laborer….
Luke tells us she was a woman of the city who was a sinner. This is a euphemism, most scholars believe, for a prostitute. Can you see this—the self-righteous Pharisee who seeks to remain pure and holy, inviting his pious friends to dinner to hear from the rabbi everyone was talking about? How scandalous that this town prostitute sets foot in his home. Can you feel his discomfort and that of all of the other separated ones in the house? Here is this prostitute, an am ha-aretz, a sinner.
I want you to imagine the woman for a moment. No woman grows up hoping to be a prostitute. She had hopes and dreams at one time, first century equivalents of a white picket fence, a family, loved and being treasured by someone. Was she sold into slavery by her father as a girl? This happened at that time. Was she rejected by a man and left with no other source of income, financially required to sell herself? We don’t know how she came to be a prostitute. Was she addicted to alcohol?
I wonder if you can see this woman, trembling, as she walks into the room? Seeing Jesus, she looks down, refusing to look at the room full of rabbis whose eyes are all upon her. Perhaps some of them, too, were looking away. A friend of mine in Houston, Rudy Rasmus, before he became a Christian, and later a pastor, ran a motel that prostitutes rented by the hour. He noted that there were police officers, judges, doctors and lawyers and even a few preachers that would regularly rent rooms from him….
This woman wept. Seeing her tears on Jesus’ dusty feet, she let down her hair—something proper women wouldn’t do in a setting like this—and she knelt and dried his feet with her hair, kissing his feet, and then breaking open the flask of her alabaster jar, poured this beautifully scented oil on his feet. This is an amazing scene of great love, a year’s wages poured out on Jesus. The gratitude and love she demonstrated take your breath away—unless you are Simon. We read, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’”
Jesus tells Simon a parable about two men who had both had their debts paid off—one owed two months wages, the other two years wages. He asks Simon, “Which will love the one who cancelled the debts more?” Simon said, “The one who had the greater debt.” “That’s right Simon.” Then Jesus turned towards the women and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”
Some of you have heard me preach on this text before—I love this line. Simon could only see the woman’s sin. Jesus saw her as a person, as a child of God. He saw her as someone’s daughter. He saw her as someone who had made bad decisions, but who was still a sheep of God’s flock. He had compassion upon her and wanted her to return to God. This is what Jesus said he came for, “To seek and to save those who are lost.” Simon could only see her sin.
Jesus is telling us that God sees us. Even with all of our sin, he sees us. And how does he see us? He sees us as his children, as those he loves and longs to welcome home. He sees what we were meant to be….
What does our scripture story about the Pharisee and the Prostitute tell you about God? About what he wants and offers to you? What kind of church he would have us be? And between the Pharisee and the Prostitute, who ended up being the somebody, and who ended up being the nobody?
My invitation to you today is twofold: To receive God’s mercy, to come home to him. And to be the kind of church that shows up with welcome signs when lost sheep come home.
What is faithfulness?
You’re going to stand before God one day, and He will evaluate your faithfulness. He’s going to look at seven different aspects of your life to judge your faithfulness, and you should be highly interested in developing these areas of your life and leadership.
1. Do you possess the right values? A faithful person knows what’s important and what isn’t important in life. A faithful person knows how to invest his or her life. A faithful person makes their life count. A faithful person knows the significant from the trivial.
2. Do you care for the interests of others? The second way God is going to judge our faithfulness is our relationship to other people. Did we care about the relationships of others and not just our own relationships? Faithfulness swims against the stream of contemporary culture, which says, “What’s in it for me?
3. Do you live with integrity before an unbelieving world? In other words, a mark of faithfulness is the kind of testimony you have with unbelievers. The Bible teaches that a Christian is to be above reproach in the community and to have a good reputation, not with believers but with unbelievers. When God evaluates your faithfulness, He won’t be looking at your communication skills, but He will be examining the way in which you walked before those who are outside the faith.
4. Do you keep your promises? When God evaluates your faithfulness, He’s going to look at all the promises you made. Proverbs 20:25 says, “It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.” It’s easier to get into debt than to get out of debt—that’s making a promise to pay. It’s easier to get into a relationship than out of a relationship. It’s easier to fill up your schedule than it is to fulfill your schedule. The Bible is saying that faithfulness is a matter of “If you say it, you need to do it.” You keep your promises. The No. 1 cause of resentment is unfulfilled promises.
5. Do you develop your God-given gifts? There’s a tremendous emphasis in the Bible on using the gifts and the talents God has given you. God has made an investment in your life, and He expects a return on it. First Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Notice it says that if you don’t use your spiritual gift, people are getting cheated. Faithfulness is based on what we do with what we have.
6. Do you obey God’s commands? In 1 Samuel 2:35, God says, “I will raise up a faithful priest who will serve me and do whatever I tell him to do” (LB). Circle “do whatever I tell him to do.” God defines faithfulness as “obedience to the commands of Christ.” We can be skilled leaders and communicators, but disobedience disqualifies us from being seen as faithful as God defines it. This is basic, but it’s essential.
7. Do you pass on what you learn? The Bible talks a lot about the transferring process of multiplication. You’re to give what you learn to faithful people, and those faithful people are to give it to others, and so on. None of us would be here today if there hadn’t been faithful men and women in the last 2,000 years of the church. We’re here today because some faithful men and women took time to write down the Scriptures, and others preserved the Scriptures, and others translated the Scriptures. We’re here because of the testimony of faithful people.
This week, prayerfully consider whether you are being a faithful steward of God’s gifts of faith. Review the seven items listed above and try to make any adjustments you think are needed. Next week, consider sharing any discoveries with your group.