One of the great chapters of the Gospel is Luke chapter 15. It contains three memorable parables sometimes called the “Parables of the Lost.” There is the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son who ran, and the father who stood earnestly watching for his return.
As such, parables usually have a paradoxical or puzzling dimension about them. Many biblical scholars and the Fathers of the Church have often tried to make sense of some of the details in these and other parables. Common agreement is often hard to come by especially in the details of these three parables.
My own view is, that we ought to resist trying to make too much sense out of them, for example trying to explain why a shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep in search of one that was lost, why not just cut his losses.
To some extent, the craziness of these parables, I suspect, is well intended. As if the Lord were trying to say to us that the heavenly Father loves us, even though it is utterly crazy for him to do so, at least from any human perspective. Why would a shepherd leave, and endanger the other sheep, to go in search of one crazy lost sheep? Why would a woman search so diligently for a coin, only to have a party that probably cost more than the coin she found? Why would an aristocratic, land owning father tolerate such abuse from, not one, but two sons?
Perhaps the craziness is the very point. In trying to make sense out of the craziness, is to miss the point, namely, that the Father is crazy to love us, but does so anyway. Yes, these parables, like so many others, are dripping with irony, rich with paradox, and, as such, run against the grain of worldly thinking. My ways are not your ways says the Lord my thoughts are not your thoughts ( Is 55:8).
In addition, a simple insight that I had missed, was supplied to me by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J Sheen, in his talk, “The Parables of the Lost.” The detail he supplies has always been there, right before my very eyes. Yet somehow I missed it. But God’s Word is frequently this way, so rich in meaning, some of its greatest treasures hiding in plain sight.
The detail that Archbishop Sheen supplies is provided in the form of a question. And the question is, “Who suffered more? The lost sheep, or the shepherd who sought it? The lost coin, or the woman who diligently searched for it? The son who ran away, or the father who earnestly watched for his return? The angry son, or the father who emerged from the feast pleading for his son to enter with him?” Yes, who suffered more?
And for us, who suffers more, when we sin when we stray…, we who sin, or the heart of Christ who endured our guilt and experiences our rejection? Indeed, our Lord suffers more than any sinner who sins.
I realize it is mysterious to speak of Lord’s suffering. Some will simply not countenance the use of the word at all with reference to God. Surely we think, the Lord in his glorified state does not suffer. Yet mysteriously, he speaks of the suffering of his mystical body as reaching him, and says to Saul, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4). Somehow too, in caring for the hungry, thirsty, naked, lonely, we care for Christ (cf Matt 25:41ff). Thus, Christ’s union with his mystical body, the Church, while mysterious, is a real union, not just a moral union, or something theoretical, he does somehow still suffer, even while in his glorified body he has the beatific vision.
And thus again our question, “Who suffers more, we who stray and get lost, or the One who seeks us with love and an earnest desire to set things right?” Yes, here is something to ponder and to pray over, namely, the Lord’s passion (in both senses of the term) to seek us and to set things right, to call for us until we answer, to look for us until we are found.
Somehow that plaintive cry of God in the Garden, after Adam had sinned, still goes forth in the heart of God, in the heart of Christ, “Adam! Where are you?! Adam… where are you!?”