Have you ever lost something that you treasure? Maybe it was a family heirloom. Maybe it was a gold coin that you put in a “safe place” so you wouldn’t lose it, but you lost it because you forgot where the “safe place” was. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go to “Lost and Found” to retrieve your treasure?
If you’ve been around church for very long, you’ve heard the three parables that Jesus uses in today’s Bible reading from Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and the Lost Son.
But, I think we have named these parables incorrectly. The parables aren’t about what was lost, but rather the seeker who doesn’t stop seeking until what was lost has been found. With each story, Jesus says that there’s a party once what was lost was found. It’s a cause for celebration! Whether it’s a celebration in the neighborhood, in Heaven, or around the backyard barbecue pit, everyone celebrates with the person who found what was lost. Perhaps these parables should be named The Searching Shepherd, The Searching Woman, and the Searching Father.
Leaving ninety-nine sheep may seem pretty foolish. Think about it. What if while you’re looking for the one lost sheep, several of the other sheep wander off? Then you have to look for all the other lost sheep. You’re only down 1% of your original flock. Why not just count your losses? Why risk running into the bear that’s enjoying its fresh lamb chops? You still have ninety-nine sheep that need to be tended to. Yes, it seems pretty foolish to leave the ninety-nine. Unless you’re the one lost sheep. Once you find the sheep, you have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!
You lose one of your ten silver coins. Where did you leave it? Maybe your other pocket? No, it’s not there. Maybe in a mug in the cupboard? No, it’s not there either. Where could it be? You’ve lost 10% of your coins. Ten percent of your savings. You’ve got to find it! So you turn on the lights and open the blinds. You make an excuse to rearrange the furniture so you can vacuum up the dust bunnies and look for that lost coin. And when you find it, you want to share your joy with your friends and family! You have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!
One of your sons runs away from home, taking a third of your assets with him. (The older son gets a “double-portion” when you die, so the second son gets a third) You’ve just lost half of your offspring. This hurts a lot worse than losing one percent of your sheep. This hurts a lot worse than losing ten percent of your assets. You still have your older son who works alongside you. He never complains about the hard work he does out in the hot field.
Then one day, as you scan the horizon — just as you’ve done every day since your younger son left — you see something moving toward you. Is it a deer? Maybe a bear? As whatever it is comes closer you squint a little more to try to figure out what that is. And then… Could it be? No, it can’t be! Surely your mind is playing tricks on you. No, it’s HIM! It’s your long-lost son!
You’ve searched the horizon every single long day since he left, longing for his shadow to grace your property again. You drop everything and run toward him. It’s been years since the last time you ran. So you huff and puff, gasping for breath as you get closer. He looks a little skinnier than when he left. His clothes are very worn and dirty. Wow, you’ve never seen him with a beard, and man, is his hair shaggy!
And just before you get to him, it hits you. It’s so strong it takes your breath away. You’ve never smelled such stench ever before! Ever! Oh, it’s horrible! He must not have bathed in months! In addition to the nose-hair-curling BO, he smells like … pigs! DISGUSTING! There’s nothing nastier than pigs! You raised him to be better than this!
But despite all of the disgust you feel, despite all of the disgust you smell, your heart melts as he falls at your feet. You throw your arms around him and give him the biggest bear hug ever! He’s home! He’s finally home! Your lost son has been found! He starts mumbling, asking something about coming back as a servant.
What? How could you ever treat him as a servant? He’s your son! He’s always been your son. And he’ll always be your son! You shout to your servants! “We’re having a party! You, go grab the family ring! And you, go kill the best-of-show steer!”
One of your servants whispers something in your ear that rips away the celebratory mood. So you set out looking for your older son. You’re just as intent to find him as you were to find your younger son. As he angrily shares his heart you discover that he too was lost. He was right beside you all these years, but he was so far away. Your work is cut out for you. You have to build relationships with both sons to restore both of them back to their rightful place in your family.
That’s your Father’s heart! Maybe you rebelled and sowed your wild oats. Or maybe you sulked your oats in bitterness as you watched other people experience God’s blessings. Regardless of how, just like all of us, you rebelled. But your Father has been waiting. Not passively waiting, but actively waiting. Actually, He pursued you in your rebellion. It may seem like you ran so far away. He may have seemed to be so far in the distance. But He never lost sight of you. And He’s ready to restore you to your rightful place as His son or daughter.
Repent. Come back.
And watch Him celebrate!
The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (CSB)
This devotional was originally published on July 17, 2019.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: