A Provocation: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This scene is difficult because it is too easy.

Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees and scribes grumble. The fact that the tax collectors were collaborating with a brutal enemy (Rome) only leads interpreters to claim this as an instance of radical grace. And at the end, the scene becomes a simple contest between law and gospel, a contest gospel always wins.

And perhaps the customary readings of this scene are exactly what is needed.

One could do worse.

But the scene is stranger than its customary interpretation, and I am convinced that strangeness provokes productve reading.

For instance:

What if these oddities are the key to the story?

But perhaps one ought tremble when reading this scene.