So I’ve been musing on Luke 15 again. Since I first posted this reflection, I’ve written this song to go with it. Now you can listen and read at the same time! Multi-sensory theology – bliss.
We are all familiar with the story of the lost sheep, and the shepherd who leaves behind the 99 to go and rescue it. Jesus is not all that shy about calling himself ‘the Good Shepherd’, so we can make a pretty safe guess that this story points at him.
Later on we have the story of the Father with the (two) lost son(s). One is lost a long way from home, the other is lost while staying close by. Neither understands the Father’s love, but both are invited to taste and see. We don’t have too much trouble equating this story with God the Father.
But nestled in between these stories is another. It hasn’t enjoyed the press time the others have. Yet as I lay awake the other night (I’d fallen asleep in front of the fire reading Karl Barth again that afternoon – a deadly combination) I pondered, ‘three stories, three members of the Trinity…’ Is Jesus telling us about his family here?
The next thing that made that flickering light bulb glow a little brighter was the fact that this middle story, the lost coin, features a woman. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for ‘Spirit’ is feminine. In English the word is neuter, which leaves us using that nasty little pronoun, ‘it’ to describe the Spirit. In Hebrew and Aramaic however, you would say, ‘she’ to speak of God’s Spirit (this is not a gender issue, more a grammatical issue, but Jesus was a smart guy, and may have known what he was doing).
This woman loses a coin. She empties the whole house to search for it. I was reminded of Psalm 139, ‘Where can I flee from your Spirit?’ We’re told the woman ‘lights a lamp’ in order to aid the search. My friend Tom Mepham led worship at a gathering recently and a prayer he prayed really struck me. He prayed that the Spirit might illuminate Jesus for us, that by the Spirit we might be able to see what Jesus is doing in our lives and in our world. I liked that, Tom.
So Jesus tells us 3 stories. Is he actually telling us how his family works? Because if he is, then he is telling us that all of God is at work to restore and rescue lost humanity. Jesus is ‘seeking and saving the lost’ sheep. The Spirit has a similar role, but on a macro scale, clearing house, making the path home straight, removing things that might keep us from being found and turning around. The Spirit also ‘lights a lamp’ so that we can see Jesus who is seeking us. The Father stays at home, perhaps to give us a home to return too. Well, he sort of stays at home, while we are ‘still a very long way off’ the Father says, ‘Flag this’ and runs to meet us. Everything and everyone God is in involved in this effort to find us, bring us and welcome us home.
The last thing I love about this possible interpretation, is that it really is the picture of a family and none of these stories are mutually exclusive, in that they can all be true at the same time. When we hear about a shepherd in the Bible, we automatically think of David, who was a young son. So when we hear about a woman I find it easy to think that this could be the mother of the household. Finally, the Father steps into the story and the family is complete, except in each chapter, every member of this family is seeking another to enrich and complete their life. That’s us. God wants us in his life. God wants us in her life. Everything and everyone God is is at work to find us, bring us and welcome us home.