Luke 15 is a beautiful chapter that brings together three parables. While the parable of the prodigal son is a longer and more well-known narrative, Luke places two other parables before it. The trio has both common and distinctive elements.
The parable of the lost sheep can parallel those who are lost and desire to come home but have no way of doing so. The parable of the lost coin has allusions to those who are lost but, like inanimate objects, they are unaware of their condition and thus have no desire to be found. Last, the parable of the prodigal son points to those who are lost, desire to come home, and think they know the route back. This third parable then plants a twist in the narrative, where the focus shifts from the younger son to the older one.
While a more thorough analysis can be made, we will point out a few things. First, the fact that all three are focused on the lost is significant—each of the three allude to some form of “lostness.” Second, the scene of rejoicing is found at the end of all of them. Verse 6 states, “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ ” Verse 9 reiterates, “And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ ” Both conclude with the teaching of Jesus that there is joy in heaven over the one repentant sinner.
However in the third parable, while a rejoicing phrase is found in verse 24, “ ‘for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry,” the conclusion that one would expect is not there. Instead of joining in the celebration, the elder son goes on a rant about how unfair this treatment is.
He is chided by the father for this rant in verse 52, when his father says, “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” To whom is Christ directing this last statement? The answer is found at the beginning of the chapter, in verses 1–3. The publicans (tax collectors) and sinners were eating with Jesus. It was at the meal (with its violations of religious dietary customs) that “the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (verse 2).
These publicans and sinners were once spiritually lost and dead but now are found and alive. This was done through the ministry of Jesus eating with them. In other words, Christ gave three powerful parables about rejoicing because some people had a hard time with the concept of hanging out together. These meals weren’t just killing time and filling stomachs; Christ was spending quality time talking, listening, laughing, answering, teaching, healing, and connecting with these human souls. This undoubtedly led to changed lives. But the Pharisees and scribes would have no part of this rejoicing.
Today, as it was then, Christ directs His disciples to spend quality time, talk, listen, laugh, answer, teach, heal, connect, and train other souls. Not just the pastor, elders, or “super” spiritual people should do this, but all of Christ’s followers are to rejoice when hearts are turned from lost to found. Which group are you a part of: the ones receiving and eating with sinners, or the ones complaining that this is going on?