“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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!’ ”
Jesus’ opening words, “What man of you,” almost come across as a challenge. The whole tone of his examples, both of the man and of the woman searching for the lost coin, propose a certain character. And by Jesus beginning the characterization as “What man of you…?”, He’s setting up this character as a standard. It’s as if He’s saying, “What real man or woman wouldn’t be like this?”
And what character is it? Well, let’s review. What they possess is extremely important to them, so important they go to extreme measures to regain what they’ve lost. As Jesus asks His “What man of you” question, one can’t help but respond, “Y’know, not a lot of us would go to those extremes. Lose one sheep? Shoot, is it worth the trouble to hunt it down? Lose one coin? Is it worth the trouble to scour the house for it? Maybe, maybe not.” But with the characters Jesus introduces, there’s no doubt. What they possess is extremely important to them.
Then there’s this aspect of their character. When they find what they’ve lost, they celebrate with a party and invite their friends and neighbors. Was this normal? It’s normal in Jesus’ world. What can we say; Jesus likes to party.
The whole Gospel is full of innocent, wholesome earnestness. Earnest care for what one possesses. Earnest seeking. Earnest celebration. By Jesus saying “What man of you…?”, He’s introducing a new way of being human. Of course that’s how one should be, He says.
Because that’s how His Father is, and that’s how He is. He cares deeply about what He possesses, for He created it. It belongs to Him. To lose what He has created leads to a deep yearning to find it again. He will go to extremes to save it, like taking the form of the beings He created and enduring suffering at their hands.
The character introduced in these first two parables takes on more dimension in the parable of the prodigal son. The father in that parable is a rather odd duck. He’s not how a normal man in those circumstances would behave. He lets the boy act as if he’s dead. He lets him take a third of his property. He lets the son go his wayward way. And then when the son returns, he expresses nothing but joy.
I’m not sure we’d take parenting tips from the father, but somehow this character is revealing something about our Father. He too let us go our wayward way. He too let us basically whittle away our inheritance, which was the world. And if tradition can be trusted, when Satan rebelled he took a third of the angels with him. Man in his fall joined in with this cohort, squandering his inheritance.
And the Father just sort of let it happen. Why? At some level, in His wisdom, there is something fulfilled by lost man being found, part of that fulfillment including his becoming lost in the first place. Isn’t that the whole theme of the chapter? The lost found? Furthermore, the tone isn’t, “Now look what you’ve done, you lost ones, now I have to go out and find you.” Rather, it’s as if the things being lost are a matter of course. Even with the lost son, the tone is, there once was this son who got really, really lost, and then when he got found, his father was so happy. The odd man out in that story is the older son, who reacts the way any rational person would.
But our Lord is not like any rational, fallen person. He does things His way, and His way is a way of unfathomable love, mercy, grace, life, and wisdom. That is His character. His character is to celebrate, to feast, and to rejoice at the restoration of what was lost, as if all of history is an orchestrated plan culminating in a way none of us can really fathom.