Luke 15

At the beginning of Luke 15, we are given the reason for Jesus telling the particular parables that follow:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

And so the first parable begins:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them… (v. 4)

And the parable is ‘about’ that man with a hundred sheep, and his reaction to finding a lost one.

So too the next parable:

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin… (v. 8)

And the parable is ‘about’ that woman with ten coins, and her reaction to finding a lost one.

So too the next parable:

There was a man who had two sons. (v. 11)

And the parable is ‘about’ that man with two sons, and his reaction to finding a lost one.

Why, then, did the third get lumbered with the common title, ‘The Prodigal Son‘? I suppose because the trio of parables looks to be ‘about’ three lost things. But these titles (‘The Lost [Sheep|Coin|Son]’), and the focus they suggest, neglects a number of factors.

  • It ignores the rationale Luke provides for the reason the parables were told. They are set up as stories which judge the right attitude towards repentance.
  • It ignores the repeated call to ‘rejoicing’ by the shepherd, the woman, and the father (vv. 6, 9, 22-24, 32) — we judge ourselves when we consider how we would respond to their invitation in each case.
  • Significantly, it ignores the way Jesus tells the third parable itself. It is about a father (v. 11), and he is the only character to appear throughout the whole of the fairly full story which follows. Once the characters have been introduced in v. 11, it is the father and the younger son in vv. 12-24, and the father and the elder son in vv. 25-32.

The stories are not primarily about ‘lost’ things, then — but about those who ‘find’, and how their joy is shared.

If we can’t share that joy … then we are no ‘friend’ of the ‘finder’.

[P.s. My own preferred titles for these parables would be: ‘The Vigilant Shepherd’, ‘The Diligent Woman’, and ‘The Waiting Father’ — the latter Jürgen Moltmann’s good suggestion, even if the theological framework in which he places it is less than satisfying.]

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