It’s interesting how people struggle to solve problems that they don’t realize are of their own making! Let’s take an example: The story of the lost son (Luke 15). They are all het up about such matters as “How can the father accept him when he returns and not do as much for the elder son who never went astray?” They want to know if the elder son was a genuine believer or simply a follower of works righteousness, etc., etc. To ask such a questions—or a dozen more like it—is to betray one’s failure to understand Luke’s words. Many think that when Jesus told the story He intended to portray the way of salvation. While salvation was in the background of it—in one secondary way—to explain it isn’t the reason why Jesus told the story.
Well, then what did He have in mind? What is the story all about? Let me explain why people go astray here: how they fail to read the context (a common failure that leads to seriously misunderstanding Scripture).
Let me point out two factors:
First, there is only one parable here—not three! Read verse 3:
So He told them this parable (emphasis mine).
Then, Jesus went ahead and told a three-part parable, each part of which sets for the same truth. In this way, He emphasized the same truth over and over again. It was a three part parable with a kicker in the end (as he nailed the religious leaders who complained)!
Second, the three story parable was occasioned by the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes (v. 3) who grumbled because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
The parable drives home again, and again, and again the fact that people ought to rejoice as the shepherds, the women, the father did, (and the angels in heaven do) when one who had been lost is found. The key to the parable is what the fellow-shepherds did when the lost sheep was found, what her female friends did when the woman found her lost coin, and what the father did—but the elder son (who was like the Pharisees and scribes) didn’t do. Can’t you see that this clears up all those prior questions? Always put a passage in its context, and read it carefully for singular or plural usages, etc.