Let me run past you all a thought I had about Luke 15, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost brothers. I don’t know what I read or heard that triggered this idea; and if it is a memory instead of an idea, then I have lost where it came from. But this chapter frustrates me because of how familiar we are with these stories — and how getting the “easy” answer makes me wonder if there’s more to it all. The “answer” is: God loves us so much he would foolishly leave his 99 sheep and seek out the 1 that is missing. She would foolishly spend a day searching for 1 lost coin and then spend it celebrating. He would be like a father running from joy to greet a long-lost son and return him to life in the family; or like a father who pleads with a son who is angry and confused and try to bring him, too, into the joy of celebration.
This is a fine and loving and wonderful message, of course.
But what exactly are we to do? I don’t think we are suppose to get lost like a silly sheep or roll away into darkness like a coin or act like either brother. (Doesn’t Paul say somewhere to the effect, “No I’m not saying you can sin so that you might be saved. You’ll sin enough to be saved even doing your best.”) In these stories, what part are we to think about as in our hands?
And maybe that part that is ours is “seeing truthfully”. The shepherd didn’t try to ignore that a sheep was missing, or claim that it was just eaten by a wolf or make some excuse. The women didn’t deny the missing coin. The father saw his son coming and went out to plead with the angry older brother. In fact, the prodigal son came home because he “came to himself”. He sat down and thought about truth: I am starving. My father’s slaves are not. He “came to himself” when he stopped telling himself lies about how much fun he was having living large, how even though there was now famine and his pockets were empty, he was going to score big soon. He quit that. He sat down and thought about true things.
The older brother isn’t there yet as far as we know when the story ends. He is still angry that this brother who wanted the father dead, who left them, who wasted his share of the family wealth was being loved back into the family, anyway. “You never even gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends.” He is lying to himself that what is going on is a celebration with friends — the prodigal has no friends. He has a father. The father is celebrating a birth.
Celebrating, in fact, a resurrection. “He who was dead is alive! We must celebrate!”
Let us all “come to ourselves” and tell the truth and see the truth and be set free by it. However hard it is, let us be truthful.