Luke 15 contains three of Jesus’ parables, stories that Jesus told which made a point/taught a lesson, which reveal to us the nature of God to forgive and reestablish relationship with God’s people. And Jesus, master teacher that he is, wants so badly for those listening to understand that he tells the same story three times in three different ways; changing the characters, but leaving the theme. Jesus addresses the crowd whom he’s teaching in a way that they’ll understand. He tells the story in monetary terms – talking about things they value – encouraging them to picture what is important to them. The shepherd values the well-being of each sheep in his flock which is his means for making a living. The woman needs each and every coin that she’s scraped to save. The parent wants nothing but happiness for his or her children. God is like the shepherd who values each sheep in the flock; the woman who needs every coin; the parent who wants the best for each child. When one goes missing, God begins the search party.
There is nothing that “the lost” can do to be found. A lost sheep will not even bleat because of the fear it experiences. Rather it curls up waiting for rescue and hiding from danger. A coin, a lifeless object, cannot do anything to bring attention to itself. And a son, humiliated by his actions, prepared to offer a humble apology cannot force his father to extend hospitality and forgiveness.
“But wait!” you may say, “The sheep and coin cannot help that they are lost. Those two parables are much different than that of the lost son.” Not necessarily. As the lost: the sheep, coin, and even the son who chose to leave –all are sought after by God. The parables are not meant to be about our role but rather about the role of the seeker – God. Remember, even as the son went home, apology and speech of humble begging prepared – and before he could utter a word, in fact, “while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” No apology or graveling was necessary. Just the very sight of the son’s return sent the father into celebration. It is God who works. Our “search” is nothing more than our desire to be found by the One who seeks relentlessly. The offering of such love astonishes us. It may not even be in our nature, and that’s certainly true for the older brother whom we find bitter and angry over the celebration of his younger brother’s return home.
But again, these are not parables about US, they are parables about the nature and love of God. Each one matters. Each one is sought. We are found. We are loved. We are forgiven. Regardless of why we’re lost; regardless of what we’ve done; regardless even of what we think we should say to earn forgiveness; we are found and what’s more: celebrated! And even the celebration is not about US, it’s about God’s nature. Remember what the father told the eldest son? “All that is mine is yours.” Even in that explanation the father offers the reminder that it’s not the younger brother’s celebration, it’s the fathers: the celebration that would be had for lost son, after lost son, after lost son.
God does the seeking, God does the forgiving, and God does the partying over us. Our willingness must only be to accept the offering of being sought, forgiven, and celebrated as God’s beloved.
- How is the father in this passage like God? What about the woman in the Parable of the Lost Coin? What about the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep?
- What does the series of parables teach us about the nature of God/how God is?
- What are some things that may keep us from “coming home” to God?