‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
- Luke 15:31-32
Today’s passage comes at the very end of the third parable in the series of parables Jesus tells in Luke 15. The first is about a shepherd who goes looking for his lost sheep (and throws a party when he finds it). The second is about a woman who goes looking for her lost coin (and throws a party when she finds it). But the third parable takes a different tack.
The story appears at the start to be following the same pattern. A man “loses” one of his sons. What a devastating loss! But no one goes looking for the lost son. The pattern is broken. The lost son returns home and is welcomed warmly by his father (who throws a party). The parable slips back into rhythm again. But it isn’t over.
In today’s passage, we see the end of the story. The lost son turns out not to be the son who left home and squandered his wealth. The lost son is the son who works in the field and loses himself in a labyrinth of self-righteousness. The father himself goes looking for the lost son and tries to coax him back to the party that’s already in progress.
This series of parables show us that rejoicing is the only appropriate response when someone comes home to God. But they also help us see that lost-ness is more complicated than it appears on the surface.
Lost sons are infinitely more complicated than lost sheep and lost coins. Sheep and coins can be picked up and carried home. Sons require a different kind of engagement. Love. Rebuke. Coaxing. Correcting. Conversation. Patience. Persistence. Hospitality. Time.
Where have you experienced the complexity of lost-ness? What impact does it make in your relationships that human lost-ness is complicated? How does this complexity influence your behavior?