Some of you might be aware of SNL’s Really!?! With Seth and Amy in which they express their incredulity with the fantastic, incredible and implausible nature of current events. Let’s imagine for a moment that there was an ancient Jewish version of this, given in the town square of, oh, let’s say, Capernaum. We could call it Really!?! With Seth and Miriam (sorry Amy). And let us say that a man, some sort of religious teacher, perhaps a Messianic claimant, but generally considered to be a wise man, we can call him Jesus, told some parables about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. Seth and Miriam have heard these parables and respond to the sheer implausibility of them. “Really, Jesus, really? A man has 100 sheep and he leaves 99 of them in the desert to find the lost one? Really? Have you never heard of wolves Jesus? Thieves? Really?” Miriam chimes in: “Really, Jesus, really? A woman loses one coin, one coin, spends all day looking for it, then throws a party which probably costs at least two coins to celebrate? Really, Jesus, have you never heard of cost-benefit analysis?” Really, Jesus, really,” says Seth, “ a son takes his inheritance, blows it in Las Tiberias at the Sands Hotel and Casino, lives with pigs when he runs out of money and his Dad takes him back and throws a party? Really Jesus!?”
There has been so much written on Luke 15:1-32, the Gospel reading for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, which includes the “Prodigal Son,” perhaps the best known of all of Jesus’ parables, that the sheer implausibility of these parables from a human perspective is sometimes lost on us. All of these “lost and found” parables propose that the one seeking what is lost drops everything to find the treasure, whether a sheep, a coin or a person, no matter how much seems to be risked in seeking out out that which is lost. And whether the person in the parable who is seeking is a shepherd, a woman, or a father, it is clearly God who is seeking the sinner who is lost. Jesus’ parables make it clear how dear we are to him, especially when we are lost to him. The word “repent” appears in the first two parables and in the third parable the act of repentance takes place when the Son who had blown his inheritance in party town turns back to the father who had always loved him and yearned for him to come home. In each case, though, when Jesus speaks of or describes repentance, he also describes the God who is actively seeking, looking for, waiting for, the return of the one who was lost. Repentance is not just the act of the sinner, but the constant act of the merciful God who will not stop looking for the ones he loves. Who does he love? The 99 and the one that is lost. The 9 and the one that is lost. The one that left and the one that stayed. At various times, the lost will include all of us and we are assured that God will drop everything and start looking for us and will not stop seeking us out until he brings us home. Really, Jesus, really?
John W. Martens
P.S. If you have never read Henri Nouwen's powerful examination of the Prodigal Son, please check out his book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.