In his Gospel Luke tells us about 3 parables that Jesus told His listeners:
One about a lost sheep.
Another about a lost coin.
And another about a lost son.
I love these 3 stories because I think that more than any other Bible passages or any other Bible stories, these 3 stories give us the richest of insight into the heart of God for the world, for you and for me. In fact, I would argue that if our reading of the rest of the Bible doesn’t bring us to the picture of God that we find here.
Then, we’re reading the rest of the Bible wrong because sometimes, I think, we need to stop reading Jesus and the Gospels through the lens of what we think we find in the Old Testament or in the writings of Paul or whatever and start reading the Old Testament and the writings of Paul through the lens of what we find and see Jesus doing in the Gospels.
Anyways, so Jesus begins with the story of the LOST SHEEP. He asks the Pharisees and teachers of the law (the pastors of the day, really) to imagine themselves as a shepherd who had 100 sheep, but lost one.
Maybe it ran away.
Maybe it strayed away.
Maybe someone stole it.
We’re not told exactly what happened, but whatever the case may be and for whatever reason, the 100 sheep turned into 99 sheep and Jesus asks them to consider what they would do.
Would they let it go and say, “eh, whatever. I have 99 more.”?
Would they let the 1 sheep wander?
Would they let it get eaten by wolves?
Would they let it walk off a cliff?
Would they forget about it?
Would they hope someone found it and took it in?
Of course not, He says — they would go after it “until they found it.” The sheep is a living, breathing thing, mind you, that could come home on its own, but is (in all actuality) a pretty dumb animal that won’t; and so the shepherd goes out to find that 1 sheep and doesn’t stop searching “until he finds it”.
Then Jesus tells the story of a LOST COIN. A woman had 10 coins, but lost one. Rather than be happy that she still has 9 left, Jesus says that the woman would tear the house apart …
Light a lamp.
Sweep the house.
And search carefully.
… “Until she found it.”
Just like the shepherd whose 1 sheep ran away and left him with 99, so the woman who lost the 1 coin leaving her with 9 refused to stop looking “until she found it.” The sheep was too dumb to come home on its own and the coin was a completely inanimate object that was unable to make its way back to the woman on its own, but neither of them gave up on the object of their affection.
The shepherd searched “until he found it.”
The woman searched “until she found it.”
And then we have the last story, the one about the LOST SON. Jesus says that a man had 2 sons and the younger one demanded his inheritance. Basically he said, “Dad I wish you were dead so I can have whatever you’re leaving me.” And so his dad gave him his share of the estate and off he went to blow it all on what Jesus calls “wild living”.
Lots of alcohol, I’m sure.
A fair amount of sex.
A good number of parties.
And more unmentionable stuff, most likely.
The son goes and spends all the money and then some and finds himself with nowhere to go except to work for some guy as the caretaker of his pigs. In that moment the boy came to his senses and headed home, rehearsing his “I’m sorry speech” the whole way.
“I’m the worst son ever.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“I’ll be your slave.”
“Please let me in.”
Before he even reached the driveway, Jesus tells us that the father saw him while he was a long way off, ran to him, threw his arms around him, kissed him, and threw a welcome home party for him all the while shouting, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
The son ran away, realized he was wrong, and came home to a front door that never closed and a father who was waiting for his arrival all along.
So, let’s review.
The SHEPHERD went out to find the sheep that was alive and well and could’ve come home on its own, but was too dumb to do so.
Similarly, the WOMAN searched high and low for a coin (an inanimate object) that would never be able to find her without her finding it and so she searched and searched until she found it.
And the FATHER left the door open and kept a place empty at the table for the son who finally came to his senses and came home.
This tells me something about God — the SHEPHERD, the WOMAN (yes, the WOMAN — let that mess with your theology), and the FATHER.
It tells me that …
Whether we’re too dumb to come back to God on our own (like the dumb sheep).
Whether we’re completely unable to come back to Him (like the inanimate coin) because of how far gone we are or how lifeless and blind we’ve become.
Whether we one day come to our senses after blowing our lives on wild living (like the son).
… Regardless of which of those situations we find ourselves in, God will never stop searching “until He finds” us and will forever leave the door open, saving us a spot at His Table, keeping a plate warm for us, and keeping the party favors stashed away for when our feet hit the pavement of His driveway.
And so tonight, wherever you are and whatever you have going on, may you lay your head on the pillow knowing this one thing for sure:
The Creator of the Universe has His eye on you and no matter how lost or confused or broken or dead you feel or no matter how far you might have wandered or how much of your life you might have blown or how many mistakes you’ve made, drugs you’ve done, alcohol you’ve consumed, sex you’ve had, shame you’re carrying — He’s coming for you, and His arms are forever open wide, waiting for you to fall into them.
Much love and peace.
PS — This isn’t the only way to think about these stories. In fact, there are many more ways to think about the sheep, the coin, and the son. And so next time we’ll turn the diamond of these parables a little bit more, see them from a different angle and in a different light, and come away with something similar, yet very different.