Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” [Luke 5:31-32 (NLT)]
March brought more than basketball brackets. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the Today show pitted 16 Irish favorites like U-2, Irish whiskey, step dancing, and soda bread against one another. The final bracket was a showdown between Guinness and corned beef and cabbage with the Irish beer winning. Since I don’t Twitter (Tweet?), I missed Bible Gateway’s March madness tournament pitting favorite Bible stories against one another.
I can understand why some stories didn’t make the top sixteen. Gruesome ones like those of Jael pounding a tent peg through Sisera’s head (Judges 4); Dinah’s rape and the vengeful massacre of Shechem (Genesis 34); and the trickery of Ehud who assassinated the fat King Eglon (Judges 3) aren’t exactly Sunday school fare. Entirely missing from the competition, however, were Sunday school favorites like the Christmas story, the feeding of the multitude, and Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses.
In actuality, there are far more than sixteen great stories in the Bible and, while my brackets would have differed from Bible Gateway’s, I can’t argue with theirs. Nevertheless, it was no surprise that Jericho’s walls collapsing (Joshua 6) beat the lesser known story of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). While the prophet’s vision is a beautiful illustration of Israel’s restoration and spiritual rebirth, picturing those dried bones reattaching, muscles and skin forming over them, and coming to life as a great army is unsettling. The story of the exodus easily beat the lesser known one of Balaam’s donkey. The visual of Moses raising his hand, the Red Sea parting, and the Israelites walking across the dry sea bed with walls of water on each side beats a talking donkey any day!
Before I tell you the winner of the contest, consider your favorite Bible stories. What would you include in your “sweet sixteen” – the wise men, the miracle at Cana, the faith of the woman with the bleeding disorder, Solomon suggesting a baby be cut in half, Zacchaeus climbing a tree, Elijah’s smack down with the prophets of Baal, Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, Paul and Silas singing in prison, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace? They’re all wonderful stories and well worth reading and re-reading over and over again.
The final match-up pitted the story of David and Goliath against the parable of The Prodigal (or Lost) Son. Everyone loves a story about an underdog hero and the boy shepherd who felled the Philistine warrior with a single shot was a sure favorite. It tells us that, even against insurmountable odds, when we trust in God, we can emerge victorious.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why the parable of the lost son won. Described by the Expositor’s Bible Commentary as “the crown and flower of all the parables,” it reassures us that no matter how far we stray, how low we fall, or how much we squander or misuse God’s gifts, His unconditional love is waiting for us when we return to Him. By focusing on the father’s love and forgiveness, however, we often miss an important part of that story—the son’s repentance! This was the last of three parables about the lost—a sheep, a coin, and a son—and the celebration when they are found. Jesus finished them all by tying repentance to the celebration. Let us never forget that we have to repent before we can attend the party!