A Sheep. A Shekel. A Son.
Jesus Christ had a way with words, a way with stories. He was so gifted that even the most learned men of his day could sit at his feet and be marveled at the depth of insight and the authority in his words. He never told a disjointed story. He never spoke without a purpose.
One such story can be found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Most every Christian alive today can summarize to you the story of the Prodigal Son. In fact, John Newton said this song came from this very chapter. (Newton literally believed he was the prodigal son. He had turned from his godly parents and lived a life of debauchery and slave trade.)
In this chapter, we find Jesus telling a collection of three stories together to form one parable. Each story is a part of the larger context of stories that becomes increasingly precious: the lost sheep is 1 of 100; the lost coin is 1 of 10; and the lost son is 1 of 2. In all of these stories, He inserts Himself as the main character: the shepherd, the woman, the father. He is always the one seeking the lost. He is always the hero. He always wins.
Most Christians would consider this a pretty elemental truth. We read the story, and assume the meaning. We have for years. But just as the lyrics of Amazing Grace can, over time, become numb and lifeless, so can the teachings of Jesus. No matter how rudimentary, if not attended to, time has a way of fading the luster of Gospel truth. “What’s the Gospel truth to be found here?” you ask. The truth is, in all these stories something is lost, and then it is found. The thing that is lost did not find itself. It was found by another. The shepherd finds the sheep. The woman finds the coin. The father finds the son.
If we told this story as it is often represented, we would say, “The shepherd comes back after a restless journey, and the sheep is sitting next to the fold.” Or, “The woman is sitting in the kitchen, and the coin flips up onto the table.” Maybe something along the lines of, “The father is at home, and the son shows up on his doorstep.” But is this how Jesus presents the story? There is a searching of something lost. And it is always found. Grace can only be understood in response to the outpouring of the Father’s love. Although the humiliation of the prodigal's father must’ve seemed overwhelming, the love never stopped. In fact, the only thing that followed the prodigal into the far country was the love of his father.
(Stay Tuned: Part III is on the way.)