What kind of person is he who tells these parables of “The Lost Sheep”, “The Lost Coin”, and the “The Prodigal Son”? The three stories are variations on a theme: There is great rejoicing over a repentant sinner who returns/is returned to grace, a lost love found and brought home.
The Lost Sheep. The storyteller appreciates the shepherd -- definitely, not a hireling -- but an owner of one hundred sheep, a complete flock. One sheep is lost and this owner goes out to look for the lost one. He has a sense of care and responsibility equally for the whole and parts that make up the whole, the flock and individual sheep, not one without the other. That all may be one is his guiding principle. He knows the nature of sheep, especially of a wayward one which in time would realize its lostness, stop, lie down and wait to be found. He knows the lost one may not be found, and so would return home in sadness.
The storyteller empathizes with the owner, identifies with him. This good shepherd knows what it means to care and to search and perhaps to experience some guilt in missing a headcount should the stray be presumed devoured by some beast or stolen by thieves. But what great happiness is his when a stray is returned to the fold, happiness too for the ninety-nine and the owner’s entire household and neighborhood. He is Jesus, yes? I know this to be true, because he pulled me out from the wilds of unbelief, idolatry, selfish attachments, from the Quiapo crowd, and said “You are mine, I care for you. Enter the church, line up with penitents to confess your sins, worship my Father, then go and give alms to the poor and make people, more than ninety-ninety, happy. Now I sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”
The Lost Coin. The storyteller appreciates a woman, perhaps a mother, single or married, who has lost one drachma of ten equivalent to some two thousand pesos -- ten days wages, not ten billion --, needed for an important purchase or to repay an outstanding debt. The lost coin is just in the house and not in a pork barrel in Herod’s palace. The caring woman in a patriarchal society appreciates the value of money for it is an expression of her creative labor power that sustains life, produces goods and services, and enhances humanness, and therefore an expression of the human dignity of homo/mulier faber. The coin is found and the house and neighborhood and angelic choirs rejoice. Applause is for the patient caring woman.
The story unfolds the feminine side of Jesus. He is attracted to and identifies with the woman because the feminine aspect of his manhood is alive, is not denied but accepted as essential for him to be both just and caring. He transforms the lost coin into a symbol of the sinner, once and lost and now found. Applause for the repentant sinner, yes, but standing ovation is for Jesus who uses himself, and us, man/woman, disciple/apostle, you/me, to care for persons and communities. This is Jesus-woman who teaches that the sinner – you-me-him/her – is valuable material, biological, social, intellectual, spiritual being, redeemed by him and blessed by the Holy Spirit and able to call God “Abba-Father”. As a drachma is more than a drachma as part of a treasure of ten. I know this to be true, for he searched for me and found me, and through grace of repentance, released me from sin who allowed myself to be a coin misspent, misused by big business, big government, big military, big science, and big Me. Now I am legal tender, not lost, not hoarded, but circulating for life.
The Prodigal Son. The storyteller appreciates the father who embraces his son who has returned to life. This is the Father who was insulted when this younger son demanded his inheritance ahead of his Father’s demise. This is a father compassionate and forgiving, who has not shackled any son to a debt of gratitude because indeed it is a parent’s duty to care for his children. He orders brought out from reserve a robe of sonship, a ring of authority, and sandals of freedom for a wayward child paupered by his pride and stupidity. And gently he corrects the reward-oriented elder who would collect payment for his love. This son of convention is invited to join the family feast.
The story projects the teller who empathizes and identifies with the father who celebrates with music and dancing, wine and good food, the return of a son from the pigsty of wild and loose living to a life of grace and family bonding. In this parable Jesus projects his values of the highest quality. He remembers his own Father who has sent him to be a father-mother in the world of sinners and saints and sinner-saints to teach them, proclaim the Kingdom, and to heal the sick. The parable is told to me, to you, to him/her now prodigal son/daughter, now self-righteous elder brother, now servants awed by the dramatic event of repentance and reconciliation. It is an invite to repentance and grace, to be unto the image of a loving Father and a loving son called Jesus.
Three stories are given us, are an invite to be good shepherds, caring mothers, welcoming fathers in Eucharistic obedience to him who says now: “Do this in memory of me.” #