Commonality among the parables

This is a post that continues the thought in an earlier post today about our Sunday gospel on the parables of the Lost.

The gospel text of Luke 15 immediately follows the section highlighting the reversals in the Reign of God (13:10-14:35).  Luke presents three parables that have a common theme: the joy of finding what was lost or recovering one who was estranged (the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son). These parables follow easily upon the extended section on the reversals of the kingdom because they respond to the Pharisees’ grumbling over Jesus’ practice of eating with outcasts.

Culpepper [294] notes that although the three parables share a common theme, the first two are paired while the third, which is more elaborate, balances the first two. The first two parables each begin with a question, “which one of you” (tis anthrōpos ex hymōn; v. 4), and “what woman” (tis gynē; v. 8). The third parable tells the story of “a certain man” (anthrōpos tis, v. 11). The pairing of the first two parables is evident not only in their common structure and theme but also in the link between them. Verse 8 introduces the second parable with the term “or” (ē) which conveys the commonality of the two parables.

The two parables have the same structure: (1) a question: What man? What woman? (2) a story of losing and finding: if he/she lost/loses one, does not go/seek … until he/she finds; (3) a celebration with friends: and when he/she has found it, he/she calls together his/her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep/the coin which was/that I had lost”; (4) the moral: Just so, I tell you, there will be/is joy in heaven/before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The common themes that link the parables are evidenced in the repetition of the terms “lost” (apollymi) and “found” (heuriskō) in the three parables:

The lost sheep
and losing one of them” (v. 4)
and go after the lost one until he finds it?” (v. 4)
And when he does find it” (v. 5)
I have found my lost sheep” (v. 6)

The lost coin
and losing one” (v. 8)
searching carefully until she finds it?” (v. 8)
And when she does find it” (v. 9)
I have found the coin that I lost” (v. 9)

The lost son
he was lost, and has been found” (v. 24)
he was lost and has been found.’” (v. 32)

In the parables, what was lost belonged to the owner from the start, but in both stories the owner expends diligent effort to recover the one lost possession.

The theme of joy and celebration also recurs in all three parables:

  • “joy” (vv.5, 7); “rejoice” (v.6),
  • “rejoice” (v. 9), “rejoicing” (v. 10);
  • “celebrate/celebration” (vv. 23–24, 32), “feast (v.29), “rejoice” (v. 32).

Although admittedly, the parable of the “Prodigal Son” leaves us in suspense, not knowing if the older son will join the celebration.

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