Lost and found

No one wants to admit they’re lost.

Maybe that’s why Jesus had to tell three stories in a row about things that were lost and found.

First there was the parable of the lost sheep. Sheep follow their stomachs from one tuft of grass to the next. If no one is watching them, they will wander off until they’re hopelessly lost. Then they panic and bleat to the point of exhaustion. In Luke 15, Jesus said the only way for the shepherd to bring the lost sheep home was to hoist it over his shoulders. It could only be saved at great cost to the shepherd.

Then Jesus told a parable about a lost coin. The woman who’d lost the coin had to search carefully to find it.

Jesus said that finding the sheep and the coin were cause for a community celebration, much like the way angels celebrate when a sinner repents.


How does Jesus connect a lost sheep and a lost coin to repentance?

Well, neither sheep nor coins can find themselves.

Jesus then told a third parable, where something infinitely more valuable had been lost: a son. The son had schemed to get a share of his father’s estate, then followed his appetites until his fortune was lost. So, he started scheming again—he would confess, say that he was sorry, and offer to work off the debt.

But the son was just as hopelessly lost as the sheep and the coin.

His father wasn’t interested in any of that.

No amount of bleating was going to make any difference.

All his father wanted was his son back.

Do you see how radical Jesus’ idea of repentance is?

When Jesus comes searching for us, all we can do is allow ourselves to be found.

Repent? Who, me?

A school district took away jump ropes. Kids could still jump rope, but without the rope. It seems that jumping rope was hard for some kids. Failing might damage their self-esteem.

For two decades, psychotherapy has been in decline, despite research that it really works to promote patients’ mental health. The reasons for the decline are complex, such as the increased use of medications, but here’s the thing: psychotherapy involves long, hard work facing our own issues. Most people blame others for their problems. Psychotherapists used to see patients who were unhappy and wanted to understand themselves. Now, more patients want someone else to change. Fewer people say, “I want to change myself.”

It would seem that Ash Wednesday and repentance are out of touch with the times. That’s too bad, because repentance allows you to face the evil that you’ve done without the guilt crushing you.

The classic case study in repentance is the parable of the prodigal son. A young son took his share of his father’s wealth, left home, and squandered his wealth in wild living. When his life had fallen totally apart, he resolved to go home and work his way back into his father’s good graces. That was the first part of repentance—turning from his old way of life and heading home.

While the son was still a long way off, his father ran to him and kissed him. Instead of giving him the punishment he deserved, he welcomed him back as his son. When the son experienced the radical love of his father, he fully repented. In that moment he had access to all the father’s love and riches.

Repentance is like a key which unlocks our own hearts and allows the love of the father to flow into us. True repentance isn’t about feeling guilty for what we’ve done; just the opposite. True repentance is about joy.

The father, who represents God in the parable, didn’t give his son what he deserved.  He transferred the son’s guilt and humiliation to himself. Real repentance is turning away from an old way of life and accepting God’s love.