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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Parables of Loss

The parable of the Prodigal Son is told in two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke. In Luke 15 the story is included in a collection of stories that emphasize the blessing of recovering a loss. The first story in the trilogy is a story of a woman who lost a coin, the second is the story of a shepherd who lost a sheep, and the third is the story of the younger son of a man who gave his sons an inheritance. The fourth story in the collection describes a loss that is not recovered.

In Matthew the story of the Prodigal Son stands alone with out other references to loss, but the story of the son who is lost is more gripping and tragic when compared to the other stories of loss. The true tragedy comes from the failure of the elder son to understand the nature of the loss. Of course, neither of the sons grasped the nature of the father's anxiety.

There is more depth to the stories than is often recognized. The woman who lost the coin was distressed because the coin was a part of a head dress that included several valuable coins as ornaments. It was part of her bridal finery and her dowry. The loss was both emotional and financial. Imagine her searching in every corner of the house, pulling out the furniture, checking in the towels and dirty clothes. She told her friends and they may have helped her search, but when she found it she rejoiced with them.

The story of the lost sheep touches us when we think of a pet lost in the wilderness, but a sheep was much more important than a pet. To the owner of the sheep, each one was important because each animal represented profit. It may have been the difference between having enough money for the next year and living as a beggar. On the social level, shepherds were the bottom rung of the ladder. They often slept in the field with the sheep. They smelled like animals, and they were not sought out as house guests. The joy of the shepherd who found the lost sheep was genuine.

The final joy, in each case, is a measure of the importance of the loss to the owner or the father.  The father in the story of the prodigal son loved both his sons, but the custom at that time was the elder son inherited the estate. For the younger son to ask for an inheritance was both presumption and a death wish. The father rejoiced to see him return since there was no incentive for him at home anymore except the love of his father. The love was expressed joyously with gifts and a party. The failure of the elder son to see the meaning of the companionship he could have shared with his father was at least as disheartening to the father as the wastefulness of the younger son.