The Prodigal Disciples

This week is the first Holy Week in three years that we are able to gather for worship in person. After more than two turbulent years of the prolonged pandemic, I am sure we all have a new appreciation of life, health, well-being, relationship, and worship.

Jesus said that he came so that we may have life and have it to the fullest. How do we live life to the fullest in this fallen and broken world? King Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun, and he urged us to obtain the wisdom from the past to face the present and prepare for the future.

When we look at the entire Bible and the whole teaching of Jesus Christ, we discover that God expects us to become prodigal sons and daughters expressing extravagant love, grace, and joy because that’s the only way to live your life to the fullest. Paul wrote from his prison cell to the Christians:

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4).

These are the words of wisdom from a man persecuted, chained, and imprisoned, waiting for execution. He used to belong to the elites and intellectuals who persecuted Christians until the extravagant grace of Jesus Christ touched him and enlightened him with a more profound meaning of life.

Two weeks ago, we talked about God as the Prodigal Father who expressed his extravagant grace to humanity, not even sparing his only Son to come on earth and die for us. Last week, we talked about the Prodigal Daughter, exemplified by Mary’s extravagant devotion to Jesus Christ.

In today’s scripture lesson, we discover Jesus expects us to become Prodigal Disciples, extravagantly glorifying Jesus Christ despite the threats of persecution by the authority. The fact that Jesus approved their jubilant behavior means that’s the life Jesus wants them to live—shining bright in the darkness.

Today is known by three different names: Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, and the Sixth Sunday in Lent. It’s a day of complex emotions—high, low, and suspense. The Holy Week is the culmination of what Jesus prepared himself in the wilderness with his forty days of fasting and passing the tests of his IQ, EQ, and SQ—Intelligent Quotient, Emotional Quotient, and Spiritual Quotient to handle the challenge of this holy week.

Can you imagine the scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem jubilantly, knowing he was about to die? Having been warned many times, the disciples also knew Jesus was in danger. Yet, they didn’t let their fear overcome their opportunity to celebrate like prodigal disciples.

Jesus teaches us to live by the non-anxious presence in this anxious world. The jubilance of Palm Sunday should be our way of life despite the imminent dangers. Jesus has told us in other parts of his teachings that the worse is yet to come, but we must be jubilant no matter how dark the world turns. How?

From today’s scripture lesson, let’s learn how to become Prodigal Disciples exuding extravagant love, grace, and jubilance in this anxious and broken world? So, let’s begin!

[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]

Today is Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, and the Sixth Sunday in Lent. The Scripture lesson is from the Gospel according to Luke 19:28-40. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Lk 19:28–40).

[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]

First, we must have the correct perspective of the occasion to understand what’s happening behind the scenes. Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to take over the kingdom. It was not a crowning ceremony but a farewell celebration. Imagine disciples were here to send Jesus off at the Jerusalem airport.

Jesus explained to the disciples what to expect right before entering Jerusalem using a parable. So, reading the parable in this context would help us understand the situation. Just a few verses above, it says,

He went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” (Lk 19:11b).

Some people believed that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to overthrow King Herod, drive out the Romans, and enthrone himself to establish the kingdom of God immediately. Jesus told this parable to explain that it would not happen the way they thought but that he was going away to receive the royal power and return as the King.

So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return.” (Lk 19:12).

In those days, a leader of a nation under the Roman Empire had to go to Rome to receive royal power to become a king. For example, King Herod had to go to Rome to get the royal authority from Caesar to become the King of Israel. Every king must be ratified by the emperor.

Jesus compared himself to this nobleman and God to Caesar. So, he told people that he would depart to God to receive the royal authority to return to rule as the King. So, Jerusalem was his port of departure. That’s what Palm Sunday is about—a farewell celebration.

Using the contemporary process of kingship as a parable, Jesus gave us a glimpse of God’s salvation plan. Then he talked about our assignments while he is away.

He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ (Lk 19:13).

You can see that this is Luke’s version of the Parable of the Talents. It doesn’t use the term talents but pounds. He gave each of the ten slaves one pound. In the Parable of the Talents, he gave different amounts to different slaves, but here he gave everyone the same amount to do business.

The next verse shows that the citizens can send delegations to speak against the candidate before the emperor.

But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ (Lk 19:14).

So there was a level of democracy under the Roman Empire. You could not elect your own king, but you could send delegates to speak for or against the candidate in front of Caesar.

Based on the context of Jesus’ other parables, we can conclude that the Pharisees were those who sent delegates to God to speak against him. Having given his life on the cross, Jesus was more than qualified for the crown. His parable reveals that those who hated him were the unfruitful and wicked people.

When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ (Lk 19:14–17).

Jesus rewards his disciples according to their fruitfulness. Then come those who hate him.

Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! (Lk 19:20–22a).

Here’s the mystery of life. We are judged by our own imagination of God. If we see God is love, we receive love; if we see God is harsh, we receive harshness. Our fruitfulness reveals the kind of God we believe in.

I won’t cover the rest of the story because I just want us to understand what Palm Sunday is about, according to Jesus’ explanation. Palm Sunday is a farewell celebration. Jesus took off to Jerusalem right after telling them this parable, so I am sure most people in the crowd knew what they were doing.

We see two groups of people here. One was there to send Jesus off. They were celebrating the departure jubilantly, even though they were not sure how Jesus would depart. The other group hated Jesus and plotted to kill him. The difference between them is their fruitfulness, according to Jesus.

We see the fruit of the Spirit displayed in the jubilant crowd. You can hear their joyful noises of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” The Pharisees could not rejoice because they were spiritually barren. Like the unfruitful slaves in the parable, they function in fear, anxiety, and ignorance.

Those Pharisees that came to warn Jesus may be out of kindness because they knew the higherups were plotting to kill him. So they ask Jesus to tone it down. But, Jesus said,

I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Lk 19:40).

What does it mean? Jesus might be reminding them of the words of John the Baptist. As teachers of the scriptures, the Pharisees should have known what was happening because it was in the prophecies. They should be among the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and they should have been leading the jubilance, but their hearts were so frozen and their spirits so baren. John the Baptist warned them,

“Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Mt 3:9-10).

God made a covenant with Abraham to protect his descendants. The Pharisees believed they were secured for eternity because they were Abraham’s children. God could not break his promise, could He? But, John the Baptist warned them that the covenant became invalid if they did not bear fruit.

God could have turned these stones on the roadside into Abraham’s children. Those stones represent abandoned people—the outcasts, the marginalized, the ignored. It means God could replace them with people from unlikely sources.

Now, Jesus was hinting that his disciples were God’s newly chosen people to replace the Pharisees. If these disciples also stayed silent, God would raise another group of chosen people to replace them. They could not remain silent because Jesus trained them to be prodigal disciples.

We must know that warning also applies to Christians today because Christians are Abraham’s children—not by blood but by faith. Paul said,

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. (Ga 3:6–7).

So, technically (or theologically or spiritually), we are all Jews. That means we are bound by the same covenant to bless the world by our fruitfulness. If we don’t bear fruit, we could also be replaced by the stones on the roadside. If we don’t rejoice, the stones will shout out.

Can you rejoice? Living in this fallen world, we all carry traumas and wounds that make us somber and humorless. You must find a way to heal those wounds and restore the jubilance to become prodigal disciples.

Since today is the last Sunday in Lent, I would like to remind us what Jesus did to maintain his fruitful and jubilant state. With his forty days of fasting, he revealed how to optimize our IQ, EQ, and SQ and passed the tests with flying colors.

If our IQ is wounded, we become intellectually ignorant; if our EQ is wounded, we become emotionally ignorant; and if our SQ is wounded, we become spiritually ignorant. Jesus revealed that we could heal these wounds by fasting.

When Jesus was suffering on the cross, he asked God to forgive the people who crucified him, saying,

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34).

He is saying our problem is not innocence but ignorance. We cannot stay ignorant, or we will crucify him over and over again. Jesus urged us to stay awake in times like these. We must be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually awake.

Over the years, I have read many scientific research studies that reveal that fasting heals many physical and mental wounds. Since our body, mind, and spirit are integrated, our spirit is revived when our body and mind are renewed. Then we can rejoice.

I think joy is the test of spiritual health. That’s why Paul told us to rejoice and give thanks always. If he could rejoice with the chain on his feet and prisoner’s suit on his body, I am sure we could rejoice in any conditions. In the Beatitudes, Jesus taught us to rejoice even in persecution. Paul had proven it possible.

Jesus expects us to be prodigal disciples like the disciples on Palm Sunday, exuding extravagant love, grace, and joy. Let us do everything to attain and maintain our jubilant and triumphant spirit because that’s how we live life to the fullest.

That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.


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