Seeing Differently as we pursue Jesus and justice

Dr Mick Pope reflects on Luke 15:11-32 encouraging us to see there is no justice without Jesus, and no us and them.

In the past I have found Lent too easy to trivialise, as an occasion to give up good things for no good reason.  I have been too busy and too lazy to follow the lectionary.

This season I need Lent. I write, not as a theologian, so much as Luther’s ‘simul justus et peccator’ (righteous and sinner at the same time). I write for myself; hopefully in a way helpful for you.

This parable Jesus tells of the Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32 is so well known to us, but it has treasures both new and old. As those who pursue Jesus and justice, we need to always do the former before the latter. It is too easy to get so tied up in justice that we forget it is Jesus’ justice we are pursuing, not our own.

This parable was told against the Pharisees and scribes, not because they were against sinners coming back to God, but because they wanted them to do so by obeying the whole law of Moses. Jesus offered grace freely. How often do we, in pursuit of the justice issues we hold so dear, look down on those who do not share our convictions? Rightly we might be disappointed, but do we complain to God that they receive too much blessing, when we have worked so hard for God’s cause, and suffered for it (v. 29)? 

Lent is the time to radically pursue God in Christ. We need to confess when we become the older brother, losing sight of access to divine grace we have. We need to chase after God like the younger, knowing our faults and failures.

Jesus’ teaching in this parable helps us to see that our excuses won’t do, and aren’t needed. There’s a journey to be made, and Lent can take us through that. But before we reach the expected end of our longings, God has compassion on us (v. 20) and will meet us on that journey. Whatever our unworthiness (v. 21), forgiveness is available. 

Ultimately, to pursue Jesus is to pursue justice, for that is the kind of world Christ brings into being, a fulfilment of all the Pharisees and scribes looked forward to. Not as a cage - a Lent of giving up what we enjoy - but a way of being, a Lent where we put on. For me this began with putting on ashes, putting back on a daily devotion, an extra service at church. It could also mean putting a justice issue on your heart and taking action in response.

Not only does this parable give us a way of seeing ourselves differently, but also others.

If in Christ, the world is being renewed, then the injustices Common Grace stands for are to be made right through the work and witness of the church. All of us who work in these spaces feel frustration and anger where churches are complicit in racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples or asylum seekers, whose theologies protect abusers, who mock climate science. They might be older siblings, but God yearns to welcome them like younger siblings. 

No one is righteous on their own terms, no one sees the world as God sees it. The work is hard, but when we feel superior to other Christians in our pursuit of justice, we risk losing sight of Jesus.

Likewise, to those outside of the church, our pursuit of justice has to be our pursuit of Jesus. To be sure, we work alongside those of good faith to accomplish the thing that God desires. However, if we converge on some kind of cause driven pragmatism, it will divide itself from a living faith. The world doesn’t need more do-gooders, it needs Christians to live out their kingdom conviction that the prodigal Father, who generously and lavishly gives us His grace, welcomes all into His kingdom of justice.



Dr Mick Pope's reflection engages with Luke 15:11-32, a reading set out by the Revised Common Lectionary for the fourth Sunday in Lent


Discussion Questions

How are you going with your own personal spiritual disciplines? Have you been pursuing justice without pursuing Jesus?

God is a God of compassion (v. 20). How does God’s compassion for the world shape how we pursue justice?

What does it mean to share Christian community with “older brothers” who might not value “social justice issues” as we do? How does this parable shape the way we see them?



Loving prodigal Father, 

Turn our paths back to you this Lent, that we would pursue you with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. 

Come to meet us on our journey. 

Help us to see others as pilgrims in need of forgiveness, worthy of your love. 

In our local meetings, let us celebrate the grace you show to all.  

Relight within us the desire for this world to reflect your glory as a world of peace and justice. 

Help us to pursue Jesus and justice. 


Dr Mick Pope has a PhD in Meteorology from Monash University and a Masters degree in Theology from the University of Divinity. He has written three books and a number of book chapters and journal articles in ecotheology. Mick partners with various Christian groups and theological institutions to help Christians draw a connection between their faith on environmental and justice issues. Mick hosts the podcast ‘The Natural Philosopher’.

Seeing Differently