Lost and Found

Matthew 18:12-13, Luke 15:1-22

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.


Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable:

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Jesus begins this series of stories in Luke's version of this parable with a simple question, “Which one of you… does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness?” We have heard this story so often, and none of us is likely to have a hundred sheep, that we forget what the answer is. The answer is quite simply, only a crazy person would leave the ninety-nine untended in a place where they might be attacked, wander off or be stolen. And only a crazy person would then throw a feast where a man who owns sheep would most certainly be expected to serve lamb to his guests.

What woman who lost one silver coin would throw a feast that probably costs more that one silver coin in order to celebrate what was lost has been found? Only a fool would do such a thing.

And what father would give his younger son half of the estate before he died just because he asked for it? Wouldn’t an ordinary father be insulted by the request? And when the son left, wouldn’t a sensible man consider such a son to be as good as dead to him even if he hadn’t given him half the estate? The father in this third story is just as much a fool as the shepherd who leave the ninety-none in the wilderness or the woman who spends more than what was lost to celebrate what was found. And Jesus seems to be implying that God is such a fool.

Both sons seem to think that their father is a fool. The younger son thinks that his father is both foolish enough to give him what he does not yet deserve and that he will welcome him back home. The younger son even practices what he will say in order to ingratiate himself to his father once again.

The older son, on the other hand, thinks that his father is a fool for giving his younger son anything to begin with, let alone to welcome him back into his home with a feast. The older son can only imagine that his younger brother has come back for more, which means that when his father finally does die, he will inherit even less of the estate that what he was originally entitled to.

The Pharisees and the scribes would have considered these stories to be blasphemous. God is no fool! How could Jesus compare God to such people? Blasphemy! Ultimately, Jesus would be charged in the Sanhedrin with the crime of blasphemy. These three stories may have been what started the process.

I don’t know about you, but I am glad that God is just foolish enough to be merciful toward me. Like the older son, I don’t always want God to be so merciful to others, but it sure is nice when God is merciful to me especially when I am so underserving of God’s mercy.