by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The Narrative Lectionary readings for Sunday, March 3, 2013:
optional reading: Psalm 119:167-176 or 119:176
Lost sheep (1 of 99), lost coin (1 of 10), and lost son (1 of 2): these parables might be some of the most famous parables, especially the parable of the Prodigal Son. Let's consider what Christ is trying to teach us about the quality of being lost and the quality of being found.
Some will preach the parable of the Prodigal Son as being about repentence, but when we look at it as part of a series of parables, it's less clear that repentence is the point. After all, the coin doesn't have to do anything to be found; it just sits there. The sheep might repent, but if you've ever tried to wrangle sheep, you know that repentence is not a sheeply quality. And that Prodigal Son: is he really sorrowful about his actions? If he hadn't descended to such a state of poverty, would he have had his epiphany?
We could look at these parables as tales of precious resources lost and then found. The first two parables revolve around an economic resource: a sheep and a coin. In some ways, the metaphor might be lost on modern readers. I've heard more than one reader talk about how ridiculous it is to get so excited over a lost coin.
But imagine a modern spin: the person who loses 1/3 of a retirement portfolio, but it is restored before the golden years descend. Or perhaps the person who was facing foreclosure, but home values rebound and the mortgage can be refinanced. Rescued from desperate economic circumstances, would we not rejoice?
The parable of the Prodigal Son is more familiar, but in our familiarity, we lose some of the point. The man really has two lost sons, the one who goes off to squander his fortune and the one who stays behind to behave correctly. We see his grudging behavior at the end of the story; had he been this resentful all along? We don't know whether the elder son changes his mind and joins the party. The story ends with the father explaining his joy.
We understand the joy of children returned to us, but I've wondered about what happens next. Has the second son really learned a lesson? Does he destroy the family business? Can the elder son work through his pain? Does the father wake in the middle of the night and worry?
We know that God rejoices when we return, even as God must know that we will disappoint again. We know that if we're lost, God will look under every shadow for us. We know that God will go to great lengths to rescue us, even taking on human form and suffering crucifixion.
Many of us will never experience that feeling of being completely lost and then redeemed. These parables have a lesson for us too. We could be grateful that we've never been in the pig pen, considering eating food too horrible for human consumption. The Parable of the Prodigal Son makes clear that if we can't exercise gratitude and joy, we're just as lost as the starving guy who eyes the swine food.