From each of these parables we can learn as much about the one who lost something valuable than about the thing that was lost. A shepherd lost a sheep, a woman lost a coin, and a father lost a son. In each of these instances, the one who lost something valuable became persistent and relentless in their search for the lost thing. (Even the father, while not actively looking (where should he have looked, anyway?) dropped everything to embrace and welcome the son who returned home.) It is not acceptable to lose 50% of their sons, or 10% of their coins, or even 1% of their sheep. Every single lost son, coin, and sheep was valuable to the one who lost it. In the book of Luke, where the welcoming of the Gentile (non-Jewish) community was clearly a theme, these parables underscore the importance of every single one of God’s children being welcomed into God’s community. None is more or less important than another.
A word on the “prodigal” son: studies have suggested that in dysfunctional families, the black sheep of the family is often the healthiest of them all. All the other family members learn their place within the dysfunction and dutifully perform their roles as defined by the family system. The black sheep is often the one who does not buy into the dysfunction. In their attempt to break free of the dysfunction, they are perceived as “the problem.” Like the individual items hanging on a baby’s mobile, when one family member changes their behavior, the whole mobile is rocked off balance. It kind of makes me wonder if the “prodigal” son was perhaps trying to break free of a family system that wasn’t working for him. Prodigal or black sheep, he was welcomed back with open arms (at least by the father – the other son, not so much). Maybe family systems haven’t changed that much in 2000 years. Thank heavens God is the one welcoming us into God’s home!
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But 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. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”