Now God wails from eternity about my great misery. He remembered his mercy and resolved to be my help. His Fatherly heart he turned toward me. It was not merely a trifle for him, no he allowed it to cost his best and dearest. - Martin Luther, Nun freut euch liebe Christen (Good Christians one and all rejoice) my translation
You are probably aware that chapter 15 of Luke is made up of three distinct but related parables. They are told in response to the complaints against Jesus that he was a magnet for those who were known, true, recognized and confessed sinners who came to him. They, verse 7 suggests, came “repentantly.” That being the case a question: “What do the parables hold in common,” might occur to us.
There are three of them: A Father waits, and it seems he has waited in longing and anguish, for the return of a son who has walked off. Someone who has 100 sheep (he is not called the shepherd) proved to be the true and right shepherd of every and all of them. A woman notices the absence of a coin and does not rest until she has recovered it. The end of all three is joy and celebration, as there will be in heaven over returning sinners (Lk15:7)
We have heard of parables and situations that talked to us about rank at table. Where will you sit and does it really matter? We have heard parables (we really did not hear them but they were in the skipped stuff) that spoke of stepping away from the table for worldly reasons and concerns. Now we confront the even deeper problem of not even knowing that there is a feast or that one should be joyful at a feast that one, according to the wedding banquet parable, is excusing oneself from.
But Ezekiel saw a new shepherd:
“11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”
Of course you do not get to be a prophet unless you first say something about he current shepherds. That something is found in Ez 34 and it is not too kind.
“3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.”
How indeed does one complain about Jesus healing on the Sabbath or how does one urge the woman bent over to come back and be healed on another day when one oneself has neither the power nor the inclination to heal? Ought one not bring the sick - the sinners - to the very Lord who can heal and forgive? New Testament Pharisees and synagogue officials are pondering this question. They have not done so. They are not seeking the lost. But, Messiah is, just as Ezekiel saw he would.
Will the bride, the church, do any less? Will she sweep diligently through all the house to retrieve that which is lost or astray? Not necessarily even buried in sin. Just without guidance and without anyone to interpret the words of the prophets or the law. (Acts 8) The sin of the gentiles is that they are, well, Gentiles. They are plain lost. Unlike the sheep who presumably know the flock and the fold, they know not how to call out, to whom to call out, or that they ought to call out.
Why is Messiah and his church doing this? Because the Father’s heart aches for the children that wander the far country, dare we say: the land of Nod, in peril of wolfs: the flesh, the world, and devil. (Mt 4, Lk 4)
You may pardon the little allegorical flight that I just landed on your desk. Maybe it does not work as neatly as I make it sound but it is not too far fetched. In all these cases, however, one thing is common: There is joy over any, over all, including, eventually, gentiles, who turn to the Lord and submit themselves to him.
We can refine our picture of the parables a bit by their placement in the Lord’s discourse. The Shepherd, the true Messiah, goes and seeks the lost. The Church and the Spirt seek the lost. The Father awaits them urgently and longingly. The young man in the third part did not come to his senses himself: He had been sought and converted.
Our lives are cluttered. That clutter, says Jesus, will not fit through the “narrow door.” (Lk 13:22ff) Those who live under the weight of clutter that the ways of the wolves of life have us carry, those who live by pretense while having made compromise with the ways of the wolves to gain a wolf’s peace need to put down a number of things. Now, after having explained the narrow door we see examples of those who, free of excuses for all their clutter, pretense and compromise, are coming to Jesus. The shepherd has found them, the woman has swept away the veil: They are in the far country and know that the only real option is coming home. The unconditional Love of the Father and the humble obedience of Messiah are their only hope and they have grasped it.
The cycle of parables ends with the older son. Will he go in? Again, a narrow gate. Will he enter to eat of the fatted calf or will he enter to celebrate his brother’s return which is his father’s joy? His words suggest that the fatted calf is not enough. Those are for mere parties, not for celebrations that come from the heart. The latter can merely be bread and wine.
Oh, mother church: Why do you seek new children? Why do you go to feed the naked and clothe the hungry? For the fatted calf or for the joy of the Father in Heaven? Even now, angels are longing to peek into the salvation revealed to prophets, kept safe in heaven for those whom the Spirit has called. (1Pt1) Will the joy of angels be enough for you? (Lk15:7) Or will you need trumpets? (Mt 6:2)