I’ve been reading Luke 15 lately, doing some research. Luke 15, for a lot of folks, is the pinnacle of the Gospel. It includes three parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. In worship services, these three stories are rarely read together and that’s a shame. Luke positions these teaching stories just so to show Jesus’ comedic side.
Story tellers know that classic jokes follow the law of three—1) there’s a setup; 2) there’s a second event that follows the first in form and tone, setting up expectations; and 3) the punch line breaks the pattern set by the first two parts. The Three Little Pigs is a kind example; a less kind example is “A priest, rabbi, and minister walk into a bar…”
So, Jesus tells three stories with similar construction—there is something or someone lost, which is found, resulting in joyful celebration! Let’s look closer for the comedic triad.
In the first two stories, the sheep and the coin are lost, which leads to the shepherd and the woman dropping everything to find their respective possession. The “finding” corresponds to repentance in each story. So, in the third story, after the younger son takes his money and runs, we expect someone (the father?) to drop everything and search for him. Once found, we expect the son to repent. That’s the pattern. But it doesn’t happen!
No one goes in search of the younger son!!! Let that wash over you for a few seconds!
What might this mean for us?
Many churches today wring their hands about “the lost” and devise evangelism programs to search for them. For the most part, those efforts have been judged futile. Whether the “nones” or the “dones,” they’re not coming back because of our efforts. The “punchline” of the three parables suggests that those efforts are wrong-headed. What we in the church are called to do is to be ready when they come back by the movement of the Holy Spirit (my interpolation).
The joke’s on us. Replace your evangelism committee with a party committee that is always at the ready!! Be prepared to welcome any and all who enter your community’s life with rejoicing!
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