Recently, as you probably know, I have been doing a bit of thinking about the “Lost” parable in Luke 15. It has made me reflect on the question of identity. I thought I would share some of my thoughts.
In the last story of the parable, we see a rift between the “righteous” elder son and the “sinful” younger son. This reflects the actual rift between the “sinners” and the “religious” in Jesus’ audience (see Lk 15.1-2). One group looked down on the other, despising and excluding them. At the root of the issue is the question of identity: the “religious” had adopted an identity that essentially divided them from the “sinners”.
We see a similar trend today with what is called “identity politics”. There are now so many different groups that define themselves in opposition to so many others along so many different lines. These include, but are not limited to, race, gender, sexuality, religion, wealth and age. In the contemporary narrative with each of these divisions there are the “righteous” and the “sinners”, with one group condemning and seeking to exclude the other. Division and hostility abounds.
Jesus’ parable gives insight into how Christianity provides a better answer. There is a fundamental unity in the parables. Both men in the third story of the parable are sons of the father. Both are in desperate need of the father’s love and grace.
How does this work in life? The Bible teaches us that our core identity is that we individuals equally reflecting the image of God (Gn 1.26). We are all fallen into sin and in need of grace and mercy (Rm 3.9). Jesus’ parable reveals that the fundamental dividing line in humanity is not along the fault lines of race, gender, or anything else. It is the division between lost and found. And if we are counted amongst the “found” it is never by our merit and only by his grace. So rather than leading the “found” to despise, exclude, and condemn (the behaviour Jesus condemns in the older brother), an appreciation of grace compels the “found” to welcome and accept the “lost”, seeking to bridge the divide. This is what Jesus modelled as well as what he did for us.
Obviously the issue of identity is complicated and much more could be said. However, I will save that for another letter.
Pastor | Trinity Church Brighton
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