Last Updated on October 28, 2022 by GMC
Precious to God
Black sheep exist in every society. By dining with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus made them precious and lovable in God’s eyes. The scribes and Pharisees, drawing near to listen, learned that strays are valuable to their owner. In the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, recovered treasures rejoice the heart of the finder.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.Luke 15:1-7
Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine…
Where is that little lamb of mine?
Searching high and low, I find you at last.
Rejoice with me, friends, and repast!
The Parable of the Lost Coin
Appealing to domestic experience, Jesus summoned the image of a woman distraught at having lost a drachma, a Greek silver coin worth a day’s wages. Palestinian men understood the significance of ten coins to their wives and mothers. A gift from the groom on their wedding day, the coins adorned the bride in a headdress. Symbolizing married love, the circle of silver had sentimental value. When the woman finds her coin, she celebrates with her female friends (philas) and neighbors (geitonas).
“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”Luke 15:8-10
Ten silver coins, treasure of my wedding,
Graced my head—now one is missing!
Sweeping, with a lamp, I find my drachma.
Come, friends, drink at my fiesta!
The Parable of the Lost Son
On a literal level, the lost son, unlike the sheep and the coin, freely wanders away from home. In Luke’s Gospel, the shepherd and the woman “lose” what is precious to them. The father in the third parable loses his younger son by letting him follow his own will. With utmost generosity, he gives the prodigal half of his estate to spend on his adventures.
Only when the youth ends up starving in a swine pen, he devises a plan to return to his father. Echoing the words of Pharaoh to Moses—“I have sinned against the Lord, your God, and against you” (Exodus 10:16)—his repentance rings hollow. Nonetheless, forgiving everything, his father embraces his son with mercy and love. Simply coming home as a child in need draws out the father’s overwhelming compassion. Repentance springs from tasting the unfathomable goodness of the Father. “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8(9))
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”Luke 15:11-32
My beloved son, apple of my eye,
Where have you meandered awry?
Seeing you from afar, I run with tears.
Let us rejoice and feast with cheers!
Scribes and Pharisees, won’t you join
God in searching for his lost coin?