By the very nature and substance of His being, what He thinks and says carries more weight than all opposing conclusions. If He says something is wicked, then it is wicked. If He declares something as evil, it is evil. On the other hand, if He says something is beautiful, then it is beautiful. If He declares something as holy, it is holy. If He calls something worthy, it is worthy.
What does this mean for you? Not your actions, or your thought life. Not the shriveled dreams you gave up on, or the skeletons in your closet you hope never come to light. I’m talking about you—the immaterial substance and depth that makes you-you.
Luke records a trilogy of parables (i.e., stories, fables) in the 15th chapter of his account of the Gospel. You can read them here if you’re not familiar with them already.
In these parables, depending on how specific you wish to get, there are generally two main characters. You have a character representing God and what He’s doing or did, and you have a character(s) representing Humanity and what we’re doing or have done. It is no different with the parable of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Compassionate Father (or, more commonly known as, The Prodigal Son).
Like some of you, I grew up reading these and listening to sermons or Sunday School lessons on them; however, I did not come to understand the point of these three parables until the Spring of 2016.
Early last year I had listened to a podcast on the parable of The Prodigal Son and thought I would spend some time meditating on the passage as it spoke to me. Since we all want to be good little students of the Scriptures, I went back to the beginning of the event to gain a better understanding of what Jesus was teaching. This led to me going back to the beginning of Luke 15 and reading through all three parables we’re looking at today.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Livestock had great value in the Ancient Near Eastern culture and was a sign of wealth (cf. Genesis 13:2, 13:6, 36:7). In this parable, Jesus is relating humanity to the sheep and God to the shepherd. The bigger your flock or herd, the wealthier you were. While the shepherd recognized the worth of each animal in the flock, if a single sheep wandered off and out of sight without you knowing, you would typically cut the loss and keep an eye on the rest, not risking the safety of the majority for the one. This is precisely why it is shocking that Jesus illustrates the loving shepherd as leaving the 99 in search of the 1. The one sheep was worth the pursuit. You are either the one lost sheep or you were the one lost sheep. Regardless of where you find yourself today, you have incredible value in the eyes of the Good Shepherd, and this is precisely why He set out in search for you.
I find it significant that Jesus chose to share how the shepherd responded to and treated the wandering sheep once He found them; I personally believe He did this to remove any doubt regarding the heart and nature of the Father. Notice the love and gentleness displayed by the shepherd as he picks the sheep up rejoicing and places the sheep on his shoulders excitedly carrying the sheep all the way back to the fold. Once home, the shepherd calls all his friends and neighbors and invites them to celebrate with him.
I used to really struggle with the idea of God—the Creator of all things seen and unseen—celebrating me in any form. Whether I had succumbed to an alluring vice or merely failed at a project I had set out to accomplish, I always expected, and to a degree even wanted, chastisement given in the tone of disappointment. Conversely, whenever I did something well I never thought He would celebrate me or the job well done simply because excellence was the expectation and I did not see the standard as something worthy of celebration.
This, beloved reader, is not the way of our Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
It is no news to anyone that currency, regardless of its form, has always had a value. In this parable, the role of God is portrayed by a woman, and the role of humanity is portrayed by a coin—a coin worth a day’s wages to be more specific.
Jesus began this illustration of God’s pursuit of humanity with conflict. We don’t know what this woman did for a living. We don’t know if she was affluent, middle-class, or below the poverty line. We don’t know if she was married or widowed, or if she had children. All we know is this woman had ten day’s of pay in her immediate possession, and then one day she realized she had lost a coin of great value.
Jesus does not say the woman panicked and frantically called her friends telling them about her problem so as to receive comfort, pity, or even advice on next steps. Jesus, also, does not say the woman shrugged off the issue apathetically. What we see in this story is the woman went on a mission, she grabbed her lantern and swept her home thoroughly searching for the lost coin. If the story would have been told in the 21st-Century, the woman would have switched on every light in the house while systematically going through every room, combing over every square inch in search of the lost coin.
Eventually she finds the coin, and similarly to the shepherd, calls all of her friends and neighbors inviting them to rejoice with her.
Like we established previously, money characterizes humankind in this parable. Money does not lose its intrinsic value when it is lost or even when it is dirty—the $20 you found in the shorts you haven’t worn since last fall did not lose its value simply because you lost it. Most in western society have been raised believing that self-abasement is a proper demonstration of humility and that any form of self-appreciation is pride in seedling form. I would like to suggest that this lifestyle actually insults the Artist. If your child began to belittle and verbally abuse themselves for their failures, or began to disregard the qualities that make them unique (or even their talents) you would quickly step in with hopes of correcting the harmful attitude and offer a healthier perspective of self-appreciation and humility.
Beloved reader, the apple does not fall far from the tree, and the leopard cannot lose their spots. Of course, sin (i.e., selfishness) erodes a person like rot to a tree and certainly is damaging to all around it; however, is value not determined by the lengths someone is willing to go to for ownership to become a reality? Jesus endured great lengths, ultimately giving His life, to make reconciliation with you a reality.
The Parable of the Compassionate Father
The third and final parable of Luke 15 is by far one of the most widely known parables in Scripture. While all three parables in the chapter are chiefly about the heart of the Father toward humanity, Jesus pulls out all the stops leaving no room for misunderstanding in this chapter’s final illustration of God’s love. There are three characters in this parable: the father, the younger son, and the older son, but for the purpose of this article we will only look at the father and younger son.
The scene opens with the younger son having approached his father asking for his portion of the inheritance early. As you can imagine, especially if you have lost a parent, this is horribly disrespectful and offensive. The son walks up to his father essentially saying, “I don’t care if you’re alive or not. I want the financial perk of being your child and I want it now.” The father, who represents God in this parable, doesn’t rebuke the son or show any sign of hesitation, but instead, shows graceful humility by granting the younger son his request.
Jesus states that the father divided his assets giving the younger son his portion. In that day the inheritance did not sit in a bank; rather, it was tied up in livestock and property. This reveals the significance of the son “gathering” it together. The son liquidated his portion of the land and livestock so he could have cash on hand. It was not as quick as transferring funds between accounts; it took a period of time for the son to find buyers for the land and livestock, thus revealing the delusion of his thinking. A master storyteller is not needed to see where this is going: The son leaves and squanders all he owned in licentious living and eventually turns to slave labor feeding pigs, an animal considered unclean and repulsive to the Jewish people, as a means to survival.
The younger son’s thinking is eclipsed by a moment of clarity and he remembers his father’s hired workers are treated better than he is at the moment. As he’s feeding the pigs and attempting to live off the slop he himself was feeding them, he begins rehearsing his apology saying, “I’m not worthy to be called your son any longer; but, please receive me back as one of your hired workers…” Humiliated and broken he embarks on his journey home. The father sees his son a long way off, and ignoring the cultural norm, sprints out to greet his son (it was considering distasteful for an older man to run in Jesus’ day).
I see God in the nuances and details of life; I can read and re-read a passage until I’m blue in the face without any life changing encounter, but I come undone once I see the vibrant color displayed in a single word of the original languages. What is captivating about this scene is the word choice used to describe the father’s greeting. The word used for “hugged”, epipiptō (G1968), literally means to fall or rush upon. Just as a child rushing to hug-tackle the parent who just returned home from deployment, so the father pounced on his son hugging him to the ground! The word used for “kiss”, kataphileō (G2705), means to kiss much, to kiss repeatedly, or to kiss tenderly. Just as a parent kisses their child after thinking all was lost, so the father kisses his son. What fiery, extravagant love and compassion the father greeted his son with—this is how we’re greeted by God!
The son, without missing a beat, begins his apology only to be interrupted by the father requesting his servants to bring out the best robe, sandals, and a ring. Why these three items? Why are they significant? It is generally believed in Jesus’ day that robes, especially the best robe, would be unique to the family, an heirloom as it were; so, in the giving of the best robe to younger son the father reinstates the son’s stature among the town. What of the sandals? Sandals were not worn by slaves but only by the members of the household; therefore, the father does not accept the son’s request to be taken back as a laborer. Lastly, the ring. In Scripture, the mention of a ring is usually to be understood as a signet ring (cf. Gen. 41:42; Esth. 3:10; 8:8). Signet rings were not only unique to the family line but were a symbol of authority. Letters and decrees from royalty were sealed by their signet ring demonstrating the administration, power, and source of the letter or decree. Here we see the father restoring the power and authority of the lost son.
After the garments were restored to the son, the father initiates a celebration complete with food and drink. By killing the fattened calf, a meal reserved for incredibly special occasions, and celebrating with family, friends, and neighbors we see the joyful acceptance and exuberant celebration of God and the hosts heaven when we return to His company.
The fact of the matter is this: You are fiercely and passionately loved by God. There is nowhere His love cannot go, no wall His persistent pursuit cannot break through. He left the 99 for you. He turned His house inside out to get you back in His possession. He gave you what you wanted most, aware that it may not end well, then received you back as if you had never squandered it.
He loves you.
He likes you.
He wants you.
He enjoys you.
He treasures you.
Will you step out and meet Him today?