In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables, the third being that of the Prodigal Son. The parables were offered in response to the Pharisees and Scribes who were complaining about the tax collectors and sinners that were drawing near to listen to Jesus. These Pharisaic “winners” were concerned about the “losers” that Jesus welcomed and with whom He shared meals. Jesus responded by teaching with parables about things that were lost – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.
In the first parable of the sheep, Jesus gives an example of terrible shepherding. To abandon ninety-nine sheep to search for one lost sheep puts ninety-nine more sheep at risk of being lost. Hopefully, the ninety-nine percent will choose to continue occupying the space surrounding the area where the shepherd was, remaining near the safety of his voice. In Church, the flock must be comforted and assured that they will not be abandoned by a shepherd when they must serve and protect anyone who is lost.
The second parable involves a woman who knows she should have ten coins, but is missing one. She goes by the power of her lamp to find it, and doesn’t give up until she does.
And the third parable is the one involving the lost Prodigal Son. Each parable delivers a powerful message about how God truly works, and within each one Jesus attaches a common happy ending to the story. The sheep is found, the coin is found, and the son is found.
Friends and neighbors are called upon to share in the act of rejoicing over that that which has been found. The joy of the shepherd, the woman, and the father is not just contained within their own experience. It is meant to be shared. Our joy is not complete until it is shared. This explains the father’s extra effort in reaching out to the older son, affirming his “winning” behavior while demanding that “we must celebrate and rejoice” the return of the “loser” lost son.
The sheep, the coin, and the Prodigal did not do anything to deserve the celebration that came with being found, unlike the sinners and tax collectors of Jesus ’ days. However, these losers do deserve the attention and love of God the Father, and those who claim to be disciples of the Lord. Our commission is to go out and make disciples of all the nations, winners and losers, alike. We celebrate and rejoice because our lives and our faith are always fuller when we are together – we are always better together.
These parables have messages about the lost, but they are really focused on the gathering that follows. For this assembly, Friends and neighbors, as well as obstinate older sons, are needed to celebrate that which has been found.
Knowing that there is great celebration in being found has somehow been lost on many young people today. They do not appear to find their faith communities, which primarily consist of adults, as settings where the party is located. Studies indicate that many find Christianity is hypocritical, judgmental, old-fashioned, and too involved in politics. The culture continues to shift, and it is not in the Church’s favor. Increasingly fewer young people claim to have a “good impression” of Christianity. That is a challenge that must be taken on, and we must show young people that there is a great deal of good in Christianity.
Let’s bring young people to Church by extending an invitation to celebrate and rejoice their amazing potential, and journey to a place of faith. Otherwise, we’ll find youth that are more aligned with what Teresa of Avila stated in her grievance of those who took no joy in their faith: “Lord, save us from sour-faced saints!”
For Discussion: In our faith communities, what do celebrations look like? Are young people actively involved in these or do they have their own? Please comment below with your critique clarifications, and responses. <image source>
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