The sheep that got away1 Jesus attracted a crowd of tax collectors and sinners. They got as close to him as they could so they could hear what he had to say. 2 Pharisees and Jewish scholars known as scribes didn’t like that. They grumbled, “This guy not only welcomes sinners, he eats with them!”
3 So Jesus told them a parable. 4 "If you were out in a pasture with 100 sheep and you suddenly realized one of them had gone missing, wouldn’t you instantly leave those sheep grazing in the pasture while you looked for that lost sheep until you found it? 5 And when you found it, wouldn’t you be so happy that you would pick it up and carry it home on your shoulders? 6 Then when you got home wouldn’t you invite your friends and neighbors to come over and celebrate with you, telling them, ‘Hey, come and celebrate with me. I found my lost sheep’?
7 I’m telling you, people, that’s exactly what happens in heaven. There’s more joy up there over one sinner who decides to stop sinning than over 99 good souls who already made that choice.
One lost coin8 Or what about this? What if a woman who has 10 silver coins loses one? Wouldn’t she look for it clear into the night if she had to? Wouldn’t she light a lamp and sweep the house clean until she found it? 9 Then when she found it, wouldn’t she call her friends and neighbors together and tell them, ‘Hey everyone, come to my place and celebrate with me. I finally found the coin I lost’?
10 I’m telling you this, the angels of God celebrate when one sinner decides to stop sinning.”
One lost son11 Then Jesus told another parable. “A man had two sons. 12 The younger boy went to his dad and said, ‘Father, I’d like you to give me my share of the family estate now.’ So the man figured out the value of his property and divided it among his two sons. 13 A few days later that younger son packed his belongings, including his newly inherited wealth, and he took a trip far from home. There he went broke after spending all his money recklessly, living it up and shelling it out. 14 When his coins were all gone, a drought struck the area. He was suddenly poor and starving.
15 He managed to land a job on a farm there. The farmer gave him the chore of going out into the fields and feeding the pigs. 16 The young man got so hungry at one point that he considered eating the pig food: carob pods. No one gave him anything to help him out.
17 He eventually came to his senses. He said, ‘Back home, even my father’s hired workers have plenty of food to eat, with leftovers. And here I am starving to death. 18 I’m going to get the dickens out of here, drag my sorry rear end back to my father, and tell him, “Father, I blew it. What I did was wrong. I hurt heaven and I hurt you. 19 I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore. So I’m not asking for you to take me back into the family. Instead, I’m asking you to hire me as one of your workers.”’
20 So the young man left that pig farm and went back to his father. The young man was still a good distance from home, yet close enough for his father to see him coming. In that moment, his father melted into compassion. He raced to his son and collapsed onto his shoulders and neck, kissing him as he held him tight.
21 The young man said, ‘Father, what I did was wrong. I hurt heaven and I hurt you. I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore.’
22 But the father turned to his workers and gave them an order: ‘Hurry, bring me a robe. Get the best one you can find. Put it on him. Give him a ring for his finger, too. And sandals for his feet. 23 Go ahead and butcher the calf we’ve been fattening. We’re going to celebrate with a wonderful feast. 24 This is something worth celebrating. My son was dead. But he’s alive again. He was lost. But now he’s found.’ So the party began.
25 While all this was going on, the young man’s older brother was out working in the field. When he finally headed home for the day, he began to hear music back at the house. And it sounded like people dancing, too. 26 He called out to one of the workers and asked what was going on.
27 The worker told him, ‘Your little brother came home. Your father butchered the calf he had been fattening. Everyone is celebrating because your brother is back home, alive and well.’
28 The older son was not happy. In fact, he quickly worked himself up into an angry pout. He refused to go in and celebrate with everyone. His father came out and tried to talk him into coming inside. 29 But the son told his dad, ‘This isn’t fair. I’ve worked for you year after year, never once refusing to do whatever you asked me to do. But you’ve never thrown a party for me. You’ve never even butchered so much as a young goat in honor of me. 30 But when this worthless son of yours comes back home after blowing half of your wealth on prostitutes, you butcher our prized calf for him!’
31 The father said, ‘Son, you and I are a team. You are always by my side, and everything I own is yours as well. 32 But, come on, we had to celebrate this joy we feel. Your brother was dead. But he has come back to life. He was lost. But now he is found.’”
See note for 5:30.
The Greek word means to repent or to change one’s mind.
The silver coins are Greek drachmas. Similar to the Roman denarius, it was the going rate for a day’s salary for a general worker.
Pigs were considered ritually unclean animals. Jews were to have nothing to do with them (Leviticus 11:7-8).
Carob pods grow on hearty carob trees that can withstand harsh climate and droughts. The trees are native to the Middle East. The fruit hanging on the trees look a little like huge green beans curled up like a fishhook. When we break open those husks, we find hard, bean-like pods that many people eat like they eat nuts – dried or roasted. They taste mildly sweet. Bakers use them as a chocolate substitute in cakes and cookies. They’re also known as St. John’s bread. They’re harvested in the fall of the year, before the winter rains.
Just as carob is harvested in the fall of the year, animals are often fattened over the summer for butchering in the fall.
What about Jesus do you think “attracted a crowd of tax collectors and sinners” (15:1)? People outside the faith are not typically drawn to religion leaders. They’re more likely repelled. Yet Jesus had the opposite effect.
Many Jewish leaders seemed to lose respect for Jesus when they saw he was hanging out with sinners (15:2). Why would they think like that? Why shouldn’t a religion leader spend time with people who needed religion?
In the parable of the lost sheep (15:4-7), Jesus says a shepherd would leave 99 sheep to go looking for one lost sheep. Doesn’t that sound like a bit of a stretch, to risk losing 99 sheep just to look for one lost one?
Jesus tells three parables about lost things to help Jewish leaders understand why he hangs out with sinful people. If any one of those parables could make a dent into the thinking of any of the Jewish leaders, which parable do you think would have the best shot: one lost sheep, one lost coin, one lost son?
LIFE APPLICATION. In the story of the lost son, more commonly known as the Prodigal Son, the youngest of two sons asks his father for his share of the family estate—before the father is dead. How rude. What do we think of people today who treat the assets of their parents as though they belong to the kids? Some older adults joke that they are “spending their kids’ inheritance.” And some of their kids don’t laugh about it.
LIFE APPLICATION. In the story of the lost son, the young son blows it big time. He loses half the wealth his father spent a lifetime building. And he does it, if his older brother is to be believed, by partying with prostitutes. The young man comes home with nothing but his regret. Yet his father welcomes him with a huge celebration. What’s the message in there for us?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus told powerful stories in an effort to convince Jewish leaders that religion leaders should spend time with nonreligious people. Yet these stories didn’t seem to break through the longstanding traditions of the Jews. Why is it so hard for new insights to change our behaviors even when those new ideas make sense and the tradition that we’ve been following no longer does?
LIFE APPLICATION. In the story about the lost son, which of the three characters do you think most people relate to: the lost son, the loving father, or the taken-for-granted son?
LIFE APPLICATION. Of the three parables Jesus tells about lost things, which one scene captures your interest more than any other?
LIFE APPLICATION. Do you know of any parents who remind you of the loving father in the story of the lost son? If so, without revealing names, could you tell us a bit about that story?