Lost Valuables: Part 1

“The Shepherd” 22×28 oil on canvas by Heather Heflin Hodges

From a Paint&Preach in August 2017

Have you ever lost something of great value and then had the pleasure of finding it again?

One of the best feelings in the world is that wave of relief that washes over you when you find a lost valuable. If you’ve ever felt that feeling then you have been given a key insight into what the kingdom of God, the mission of Jesus, and our mission as a church is all about.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories about lost valuables that are found. In each of these three stories Jesus progressively raises the stakes. He begins with one sheep out of a hundred, then it’s one coin out of ten, and then it’s one son out of two. In each of these stories there are several key details that they all have in common.

The first detail is that something valuable is lost.

Looking at the shepherd we might think, one sheep out of a hundred is not that big of a deal. But remember in a shepherding culture the sheep mean more than just mere inventory. The shepherd loved the sheep, he named them and they knew the sound of his voice. He would call them and they would come running. So, to lose even one sheep was a big deal.

When we look at the story of the woman, one out of ten coins doesn’t seem that bad, unless those ten coins comprised her whole dowry. If she came from a poor family and that’s all she had, then losing one coin was a big deal.

Of course, the father who had one of his two sons go off to a distant country was guaranteed plenty of sleepless nights.

A second detail these stories have in common is that the principle character takes massive action to get back what was lost.

When the shepherd realizes one of his sheep is missing he leaves the ninety-nine in the open country, and goes looking for his lost sheep. Leaving ninety-nine sheep in the open country, exposed and vulnerable, sounds like risky business to me, and that’s the point. The sheep is so valuable to the shepherd that he is willing to do whatever it takes to find it. Massive action.

The woman who lost her coin reminds me of my husband on Super Bowl Sunday when he has lost the remote control. She’s moving furniture, throwing pillows, she’s sweeping the floor and turning the house upside down until she finds what’s she’s looking for. Massive action.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the father in the story takes any action at all until he sees his son off in the distance and then he runs to greet him. In actuality, the father in this story is anything but passive. He never stops looking for his son, and then he runs to meet his son on the road. First-century patriarchs did not run anywhere. But this father is willing to humiliate himself because he loves his son so much and he can’t wait to get his arms around his boy. Then the father gives the son more than he even asked for. The boy just wants a place in the bunk house with the servants, instead the father honors him and welcomes him home like the precious child and heir that he is. Massive action.

A final detail these three stories have in common is they all involve a party. When the shepherd, the woman, and the father find what is missing they call their friends and family together to celebrate because “what once was lost, now has been found.”

With each description of a party Jesus moves us closer and closer to the reason he is telling these stories in the first place.

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