Lost: joy

lost_coin_lost_sheepJoy in heaven and on earth? A present participle generally denotes action that occurs at the same time as the main verb. The main verb in the first conclusion (v. 7) is estai a future = “There will be”. The main verb in the second conclusion (v. 10) is ginetai a present = “There is”. So, when a sinner repents, at that moment there is joy in heaven. Will there be joy on earth, then seems to be Jesus’ question.

It would seem that the ways to keep joy out of heaven are: (a) be so righteous that repentance is unnecessary, or (b) be a sinner and fail to repent. However, I don’t think that Jesus’ main point is about joy in heaven, but joy on earth. The joy in heaven is a given. It is the corresponding joy on earth that can be nearly impossible to obtain. The self-righteous, critical, judgmental attitude of the scribes and Pharisees sought to kill the joy of Jesus’ parties. I guess that when they couldn’t kill the joy of the party, they killed the party-host — which stopped the joy for only a short three days. Then we again see Jesus eating with sinners. The “party” goes on.

Culpepper [298] includes this Jewish story to illustrate a truth of our text:

“A Jewish story tells of the good fortune of a hardworking farmer. The Lord appeared to this farmer and granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbor. The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received a hundred cattle, and he was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred acres of land. Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbor had received more than he. Finally, he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye. And God wept.”

He concludes: “Only those who can celebrate God’s grace to others can experience that mercy themselves.”

It is this final insight that is perhaps key to the inclusion of these parables in our Year of Mercy Bible Study. Consider this: what is mercy begrudgingly given and half-heartedly received?

Hebrew does not have just one word to define mercy, at least not the Mercy of God. There are three Hebrew roots that are frequently translated “mercy.” The first of these, h̥esed, carries a broad range of meaning. It refers to the kind of love that is mutual and dependable. It both initiates and characterizes the covenant bond between God and the people. This h̥esed always implies action, both on God’s part (Gen 2:12, 14; 2 Sam 22:51) and the part of humans (Josh 2:12, 14; 2 Sam 2:5). It is mutual and it is enduring (Ps 136; Hos 2:20–22; Isa 54:8). The second Hebrew word, rāhamîm is related to the word for “womb” (reh̥em). It designates “womb-love,” the love of mother (and father) for a child –love that is intrinsic, intuitive, ineffable . The word is used to describe God who has mother-love (Isa 49:15; Jer 31:20) or father-love (Ps 103:13; lsa 63:15–16) for Israel. The “womb-love” of God leads to forgiveness for the wayward children. The third important Hebrew word that is translated “mercy” is h̥n/h̥nan with its derivatives. This word means “grace” or “favor.” It is a free gift; no mutuality is implied or expected.

Mercy is this ineffable response from God because of his love for all His children – those who wandered away and those who are lost. Mercy is action on God’s part with no mutuality expected – only hoped for. Mercy approaches completeness when the love that results: “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Lk 7:47) – becomes mutual. And perhaps the lesson of these two parables is that Mercy is complete when the whole of the people of God can truly rejoice with the angels in heaven.


  • Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 294-305
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 568-86
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 234-42
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p.963-4
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 254-6
  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) pp. 341-3
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com

Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).

  • Oepke, apóllymi , , Vol. I, pp. 394-97
  • Zimmerli, chaírō (to rejoice), chará (joy), synchaírō (to rejoice with), Vol. IX, 376-87

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/

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