When my niece was a few months away from turning two, she found a new favorite toy. It was a very large balloon in the shape of the number “50” that my dad received for his birthday. Because my niece loved it so much, we kept it around the house for a few weeks after his birthday celebration. During that time, some friends visited the house while my niece was dragging around her coveted balloon, and they asked her, “Whose balloon is that?” She slyly responded, “Papi’s balloon… Mine, too.”
From an early age we like to claim and to keep track of the things we love.
This came to mind while I read the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin in Luke 15 this week. If you’re unfamiliar with the parables, you can read them here. Essentially, Jesus tells a parable about a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one who wandered off; he then shares another parable about a woman who searches her home diligently for one lost coin. Once they find their treasured items, the parables end in celebration.
Most of the sermons I have heard about these texts end with a call for us, as lost sheep and lost coins, to return to the One who left the other 99 sheep and 9 coins to come find us. And that makes sense, given that in verse 7 Jesus explains the parable, stating, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” So we establish that the parables are definitely about our return to the One who shepherds us and keeps us.
I think there’s even more going on here. Parables are meant to have layers of meaning, and there’s another layer staring right at us when we consider that sheep and coins don’t have the capacity to repent. The sheep and the coin didn’t go seeking after their keeper; rather, the keeper took great measures to go find them. While the text states that one of the parable’s points is to encourage repentance and reconciliation, the actual story depicts God seeking us when we’re lost. (For more on this reading of the parables, see chapter 1 of Amy-Jill Levine’s Short Stories by Jesus).
And this parable isn’t anomalous. We have examples of God seeking those who are lost throughout the Old and New Testaments. One of my favorite examples takes place in Genesis 16. Sarai gave Hagar to Abram as a wife, because Sarai until that point was barren. The text says that when Hagar became pregnant “she no longer respected her mistress” (v. 4), so Sarai “treated her harshly, and she ran away from Sarai.” So we have a pregnant servant who endured such punishment that she preferred to run away into the desert. And that’s where God comes in.
The text says that the Lord’s messenger (which becomes the Lord by v. 13) “found her at a spring in the desert” and asked her, “Where did you come from and where are you going?” She explains that she ran from Sarai, and God instructs her to return home. And then He blesses her, saying,
“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (v. 11-12).
God doesn’t bless her with a perfect son who will be kind and gentle and will play well with others. God blesses her by showing up to her in the desert, at a well (for more on women at wells, click here), and listening to her. Not only that, but God tells her to name her son Ishmael, which in Hebrew means, “God hears.” Genesis 16 illuminates the point that no matter where we go, no matter how far we travel, no matter how lost we feel, God will come find us.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin have a lot to say about us repenting and reconciling with God. Even more, though, they want us to realize that God will never leave us nor forsake us. He’s not going to let us remain lost, no matter how far we wander. So may we find comfort and direction today, as Hagar did, that know that God will always seek and find us wherever we may be.