A parable is a story or situation in the human realm used to illustrate or defend some spiritual principle. When thinking about parables, most people connect them to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. In the first three books, at least thirty parables are found plus many other short sayings that are parabolic in nature. Matthew 13 and Luke 15 contain a cluster of parables.
So does life. For seventeen years, I wrote a weekly newspaper column called “Parables . . .” Is used ordinary events from my life, the newspaper and other sources to illustrate spiritual truths. People asked me how I got ideas for these articles. It was not difficult. I know the Holy Spirit was involved in bringing them to mind, but everything can be connected to our sovereign God. Everything seemed to remind me that He is involved in this world.
The beginning of Luke 15 relates a parable Jesus told when the religious people grumbled about Jesus receiving and eating with tax collectors and sinners. (All are sinners but these self-righteous leaders thought tax collectors were the worst.) Jesus said to them:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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.” (Luke 15:3–7)
For this culture, the care of sheep was a familiar process. They valued their animals and understood why the owner of a flock of sheep would seek one that was lost and rejoice over finding it. If His listeners didn’t get that one, the next parable would clarify Jesus’ point even more:
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And 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 before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8–10)
Perhaps Jesus was setting them up. He went from lost sheep, to lost money, to a lost child. His next parable was the familiar story of the prodigal son. The boy persuaded his father to give him his inheritance, left home and squandered it, came to the end of his rope, came home willing to be a servant, and his father not only received him with joy but threw a party.
In these three parables, Jesus illustrates the care of God for what is His. He created us but because of our sin, we are lost from Him. Not only that, we are deliberate about it. A sheep might unwittingly wander off, and a coin might fall through the cracks, but the prodigal determined to go his own way and do his own thing. Our human temptation might be to let him pay the price of his folly, but God is determined to rescue the lost. He sent Jesus to do it.
Jesus could have first gone to the religious leaders and tried to rally them to His cause, but He knew that they were not thinking of themselves as lost sinners. He went instead to those who were obviously in that category and they gladly ‘came home’ to their Father, knowing that He was looking for them and would welcome them. The parable helped them understand this truth.
I wanted to write about parables, but these three are filling my heart with joy that God seeks the lost, that He sought me, that He cared enough to rescue me from my determination to do my own thing and run my own life. I was a sheep out on a precipice with no way to safe ground. I was a coin stuck in a dark crevice without the ability to get out of it into the light. I was wasting my life on stuff that didn’t matter. But He kept seeking until I finally heard and responded to His call.
Jesus, You are so wonderful, so precious. These stories are not about the value of the sheep or the value of the coin or even the value of the son — however much they meant to those who lost them. They are about the persistence of the seeker, the heart of the shepherd, the owner, the Father who created the Son, and they are about You whose sheep I am, whose treasure I am, whose child I am — the one that You created. In this relationship there is safety, value and belonging. Thank You that I am part of Your stories and that You found me.