One of the things I love about being a teaching pastor in a large church is that every week I get to grapple with a fresh text and unpack its meaning to an intelligent and thoughtful audience.
In the evenings we're working our way through Habakkuk, a seventh century prophet whose critique of his culture resonates closely with ours. His taunt song against Babylon (2:6-19), focused around 5 'woes' exposes a culture driven by materialism, militarism, a cult of power and an almost childlike faith in technology. Ring any bells?
In the mornings we're dropping in on encounters that Jesus had as he made his way from Galilee to Jerusalem as recorded by Luke.
This coming Sunday I'm dealing with the encounter he had with the pharisees that resulted in the three great parable of Luke 15 - including the prodigal son.
You'd have thought there was little new to discover and say about this well-known story. But you'd be wrong. Tom Wright and Kenneth Bailey have both published work recently that floods these familiar stories with startling new insights.
Among them was this simple one. The parable of the prodigal son is a retelling a story of Israel. In particular the story of exile and restoration. For Bailey it's rooted in the Jacob story in Genesis. For Wright it's focused on the exodus and exile. Because of this, the story is about how both sons - not just the younger one - are offered the chance to be part of the family of God.
Jesus is at the heart of the story - the one who is the embodiment of Israel (a key resonance with the Jacob story) - welcoming all kinds of people to his table. The story is told because the pharisees criticise his eating with 'sinners'. But his tale makes the point that he invites both sinners - like Levi (Luke 5) - and pharisees - like Simon (Luke 7) - to dine with him, to be part of the new thing God is doing through him. He is the one around whom a new 'Israel' is coalescing in fulfilment of the promises made by the prophets about the return from exile.
I'm really going to enjoy preaching this on Sunday!