As He prepared to tell a series of parables, Jesus said to His listeners, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:35). When I reflect on this, I think of the love He was showing. He wanted people to draw near, because He wanted to teach them something. God cares that we understand what He has to say to us.
“Hearing” means more than the physical act of using the ears. Although His original listeners were able to do this as well, what Jesus really wants is for us to draw near to Him through the reading of Scripture, reflection, and prayer. He wants us to value the truth that He is teaching and learn to apply it.
The three parables that immediately follow Jesus’ call to hear His words describe the joy He has for each and every sinner who turns to Him in repentance for salvation. In each of these parables, something had been lost (a sheep, a coin, and a son). The owner of each is overjoyed when what was lost is found. In each case, the “finding” represents the repentance and salvation of a sinner, and the celebration of the finder represents the joy in Heaven when a sinner is saved:
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The lost son’s father saw him when he was still “a long way off” (Luke 15:20), indicating that he was looking for him. He was heartbroken and eager to be reconciled with his son. In the same way, God is desiring to see us come to Him, eager to initiate forgiveness.
The father did not berate the wandering son upon his return; his forgiveness was immediate. He ran to his son with open arms, embracing him lovingly with forbearance, grace, and mercy. He generously offered all that he had to give, demonstrating his willingness to humble himself so that his son would be saved from his despair. In the same way, God patiently waits for us to accept His gracious gift of forgiveness made possible by His humble sacrifice on the cross.
Although the invitation to accept the gift of salvation is open to everyone, not everyone is capable of “hearing.” Jesus illustrates this by the inclusion of the elder son in the last of these three parables. This son was filled with contempt for his father, demonstrated by his bitter refusal to participate in the father’s loving celebration of the younger son’s return. He pridefully excused himself with words that claimed his father’s favor should be gained by merit rather than humble repentance and submission to the father’s will.
The unanswered question that is inherent in these parables is “How will you respond”? Will you respond as the elder son? Or, will you heed Jesus’ call to hear and trust in His promise for all who come to Him as the younger son did?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.