Today’s reading is 1 Kings 7-11, Psalm 87, and Luke 14-15.
Luke 15 is the “Lost and Found” chapter, not because the chapter itself was ever lost, but because the three parables are all about something that was lost and then found: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and lost son.
These stories are often told in one of two similar ways, both being calls to come to Jesus. In evangelistic settings, the stories are used to call the lost, those who have never come to Jesus. In church settings, the stories are used to call the wayward and lax Christian back to a life of repentance. In both settings, those who are not lost and wayward are taught to celebrate when the sinner repents, when the lost accepts Jesus for the first time and when the wayward come back.
Like most adults who grew up in the church, these are some of the parables I know by heart. Like the birth, death, and resurrection narratives, the Lost and Found stories were typical, go to stories, easily understood by children of all ages. Some parables are a little more complicated, even the disciples had a hard time understanding them. But these stories of being lost and then found are universal.
When we teach these parables, we often explain that all of us are just like the sheep, coin, and son, lost but found by Jesus. What has often been failed to be taught is that most of us hearing these stories, particularly in church settings, is that most of us are actually the 99 sheep, the 9 coins, the older son, and the friends.
If we are the friends of the shepherd, the woman, and the father, we are in a good position. This makes us like the angels in heaven who rejoice “over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). If we are the 99 sheep or the 9 coins, we too are in a good position because we are faithful followers of Christ, keeping our eyes on Him. But if we are the older son, we are in trouble.
While the whole parable of the Prodigal Son had been read and told to me many times as a child, it was not until high school or college that I realized I was the older son. I always thought I was the friends, rejoicing when a sinner repented or the 99 sheep/9 coins who stayed with Jesus. But I realized that far too often I was the older son.
Like many who grow up in the church, I was faithful. I attended church, Sunday school and youth group, and helped and volunteered in various ministries. I read my Bible on my own and listened to Christian music. I was faithful. I tried to share my faith by inviting friends to church and youth group activities. I rejoiced when someone accepted Jesus and was baptized.
But I was also jealous.
The older brother thinks he is one of the 99 sheep and one of the 9 coins. The older brother thinks he is doing everything required of him. But then he feels left out. He feels ignored and uncelebrated.
We all have a testimony, a story of a our relationship with God. These testimonies can range from “boring” to “exciting.” Mine is on the “boring” side. I grew up in a faithful Christian home, accepted Jesus at 3, and was baptized at 8. I didn’t have pre-marital sex, I’ve never smoke or done drugs, I’ve never gotten drunk, never partied, and I’ve never been in trouble with the law. I was a good student and have always been a good employee.
No one wanted to hear my story.
But they wanted to hear the “exciting” stories. In youth group, whenever a person with an “exciting” past was baptized, the youth leaders wanted them to tell their story. Their story of pre-marital sex, drinking, drugs, and getting in trouble with the law. They wanted them to tell their stories about how Jesus turned their life around because maybe someone else would turn their life around, too.
But like the older brother, I didn’t need to turn my life around (at least, that is what I wanted to think).
When the prodigal son returns, the older brother is out in the fields. He doesn’t get the message and it isn’t until he is walking towards the house that he sees the lights, hears the music, and smells the roasting fattened calf that he knows something is going on. He calls over the servant who tells him his brother is back and his father is throwing them a party.
It is as if I was setting up chairs for youth group, helping with the kid’s crafts for vacation Bible school, and handing out bulletins while the person with the “exciting” testimony gave his life to Jesus. While walking into the church service I hear the applause and see the person being immersed in the baptism tank. I ask an usher what is going on. They tell me about that the person with the “exciting” testimony has just been baptized.
The older brother does not go into the party. He makes the father come out and see him. He complains to his father that he never received a party, that he and his friends never got to have a young goat. But his father tells him, “‘My son…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32).
I don’t go into the service, welcoming this person into the faith. Instead, I complain to the Father. I tell Him that I never get the applause, I never get the congratulations or recognition for my faithfulness. But my Father tells me, “Daughter, you are always with me. Everything I have is yours. But we have to celebrate! This sibling of yours was dead but is now alive. They were lost but are now found.”
While jealousy is not exciting compared to pre-marital sex, drugs, drinking, and legal trouble, it is just as much of a sin which requires repentance. The older brother was lost because he chose not to come into the party. His father had to go out to him, he had to find him.
We are lost when we sit out in the hallway, when we do not congratulate those who have newly come to repentance.
Part of being found is celebrating with the angels in heaven. And part of being found is joining together with the other found, with the 98 sheep and the 8 coins who are brought together with the lost sheep and lost coin. The shepherd’s pasture was only complete when all 100 sheep were together. The woman’s coins were only complete when all 10 coins were together. We must join together with the lost, found, and angels.
Join me in finishing this year by reading through the Bible through a Psalm a Day. Find my reading plan here.
All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Unless otherwise noted.