The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
You might have just skim read the passage, and thought, the prodigal son, not again, been there done it got the t’shirt.
But bare with me. I want to just ask you one question, which of the two sons would you say was the one that was lost?
I would suggested that much of our reading of this passage is a little wrong, we often read the this story following on from the lost sheep and the lost coin, and so we often call it the lost son, three things starting with the same word, that’s almost Anglican alliteration.
Yet I think we need to look at the start of chapter 15 to see what this passage is really saying, who is Jesus addressing, he’s talking to those who don’t think that they are lost, the ones who think that God must be very impressed with them as they have letters after their name, buy the daily mail, wear a shirt and tie, and have sat in the same pew since the Norman invasion.
They hear the first two stories and think that the young lad who ended up in his fathers arms via the pig sty is the one that is lost, not the nice ‘you can marry my daughter’ older brother, who you just know wears chino’s and deck shoes… yet in the final twist, perhaps Jesus is telling them, that the older son, is the one who is lost, because he simply doesn’t understand the extent of the Fathers awesome love for him.
I believe that Luke 15 is actually the hinge of Luke’s gospel, the main point all the way through the gospel is that those who think they’re out, from shepherds, gentiles, ritually unclean, prostitutes, tax collectors, gentiles find themselves embraced by the furious love of God… where as the priests and religious leaders, the people who should get it don’t.
This is a massive theme within Luke, it starts with Zachariah and Mary being contrasted together, a learned Priest in the temple does not believe God can miraculously open up a womb whereas a simple peasant girl (largely educated and probably largely ignored) understands, believes and puts her faith in God and surrenders to him.
A theme that continues through out the gospel.
Contrast Jirus’ despair when he believes his daughter has died, with the woman with the issue of blood who believes that just one touch of the hem of Jesus’ garment can make her clean.
You see, many of us may have found God a little like the younger brother, but beware my friends, I know that I can, have and to my shame do, revert to an older brother attitude sometimes.
We forget that we too are forgiven sinners.
Cleansed, restored and reconciled.
We forget the sheer scandal that is the awesome grace of God.
The scary words of Jesus over the woman who anointed him with perfume before the Pharisee, is “those who have been forgiven much, love much, but those who have been forgiven little love little”.
We become so accustomed to the furious love of God (I love that phrase, it’s from Brendan Manning, author of the ragamuffin Gospel) that sometimes its life transforming power sometimes alludes us…
I think to call this parable the prodigal son, is a little inaccurate, firstly the word prodigal means extravagant and generous, so I’d say the extravagant one in this story isn’t the son, but the Father.
Also, the idea of a lost trilogy makes sense, but for too long we have got the wrong Son, marked as the lost one.
This Son didn’t realise how much his Father loved him.
In a script I once wrote about this story I included the lines “if it had been you, I’d have done the same for you” words which don’t feature in the Bible, but I think is the unsaid words in the story, would the fathers heart have broken the same if his older son had gone off, yes, of course it would. The younger son, actually realised a little more about the grace and compassion of his dad’s nature.
But even then, he doesn’t quite get it, he wants to come back too his Father not as a Son but as a Servant.
He knows his father will have pity and mercy towards him, but full redemption and restoration, that is goodness and grace beyond his wildest imaginings.
A bit like in the story of Dicken’s Great Expectations, an ungrateful Pip is embarrassed and ashamed of his unsophisticated brother in law/surrogate dad when he is living the high life in London, yet he collapses and awakes in his family home, Joe having paid off his creditors, the rejected and spurned one loves his and takes him home, paying his debts. In many ways a picture of the cross of Christ here.
So, maybe we can call the younger Son lost, as even he did not comprehend “how long and wide, and high and deep was the love of -The Father- the transcends knowledge” (I substituted the word God for Father from Eph.3:19)…
Maybe it is the story of a son who was physically lost, and one who lost but still at home?
Maybe it was one who was lost in terms of understanding his Fathers love, and other who was a little less lost?
Maybe it is a challenge to us who think we’re home and dry, to not take God’s grace for granted, to keep our hearts from becoming dry, from allowing the cancer of smugness to strangle our acceptance of grace.
Too often we think our acceptance of grace is something we receive at conversion, but no, grace is something we need like oxygen every moment of our existence and without it we wither and die.
Let us be people who embrace grace, like drowning me, seizing this beautiful gift with both hands, something we are desperate for, but something which our Father longs to pour out onto us.
We are truly lost when we think we don’t need this great gift.