I wrote in an earlier post that Jesus’ parables were not intended to make “a point.” They were theological constructs that invite us to enter into an alternate reality. Bailey describes the parables as being theological clusters where a number of theological realities are represented as a package. Each of the three parables has its own cluster and I have highlighted those in recent posts. They all have great similarities but each one adds nuances not contained in the others. So how do these three parables of the “Lost Sheep” (15:4-7), “Lost Coin” (15:8-10), and “Compassionate Father” (15:11-32) connect to each other to tell a bigger story?
Bailey makes seven observations about the interconnection between these parables on pages 60-63 of Jacob and the Prodigal:
- “The three parables are not addressed to the ‘crowd’ but rather to a group of scholars (the scribes and Pharisees).” It is important remember the context in which these parables were given and that they were offered as response to the scribes and Pharisees who bothered by Jesus eating with sinners.
- “The setting of meals and eating links the three stories.” Jesus is at a celebration. Each of the three stories ends with people at a celebration.
- “Each story has a special ‘finder,’ and the story lines are parallel.” The good shepherd, the good woman, and the good father are one in the same person. But as Bailey points out, we have countless images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and people can readily identify the compassionate father. Why is it then that we never see Jesus referenced or symbolized as the Good Woman? (I’ll leave that to your reflection.) Bailey also goes on to note that there is an inextricable intertwining of Jesus with the father in the last parable.
- “In each of the three stories something is lost but there is an important progression. In the first story, one in a hundred is lost, in the second, one in ten, and in the third one in two.”
- “The arena within which the missing animal/coin/son most be found narrows. In the first story the sheep is lost in the wide wilderness. In the second story, a coin is lost in the house. In the third, the son (sons?) lost from within the inner circle of the father’s love.”
- “There is movement from animals and coins to people.” Bailey shows Jesus used this format in parables earlier in Luke. For instance, in Luke 13:15-16, Jesus speaks of untying an ox as a metaphor for why a woman should free from hear physical bondages.
- “In each story there is a price to be paid.” The shepherd has to search over difficult terrain. The woman has to search diligently in a dark room. The father allows himself to be humiliated in order to provide a way for his sons to “come home.”
Bailey goes on to make one other observation that I thought was important. He had a friend who was a therapist in Jerusalem. His therapist friend shared that,
“…patients often went patients often went to him with a series of layered problems that had almost destroyed them. At times, one of those layers was a pattern of self-destructive behavior relating to sexuality. After a number of sessions, the doctor patient relationship reached a deep level of mutual trust, and the patient was willing to discuss his or her sexual life and problems regarding it. Occasionally, in a later session, my friend asked how much money his patient had and how it was spent. At that point, the patient would withdraw in shock with the expressed or unexpressed question, “Why are you invading my privacy?” The conclusion my friend and other therapists have come to is that an individual’s money and how he or she spends it is embedded more deeply in the psyche of a person than is sexuality. Personal sexuality, it seems, can be discussed more openly than personal finance.” (63)
Jesus began with items of material value (sheep and a coin) and escalated to that which is of eternal value. If we search as hard as we do for that which is of material value and then rejoice when we find it, how much harder should we search for that which is of eternal value? Jesus is putting that question to the scribes and Pharisees by combining these three parables.
These stories are not only interrelated to each other but they also show connections with stories and images from the Old Testament. More on that to come.