You wanna talk about good news?
By Charles Qualls
One of the most popular recreational pursuits that families or groups can do together emerged before the pandemic gripped us. “Escape Rooms” have grown to great popularity in the last few years. If you haven’t taken part in one of these, just imagine being locked in a room that was set up with some theme or movie in mind.
Hidden within that room are clues as to how you’ll escape, but they can be super hard to find. One clue leads to the next. You are on the clock, so you don’t get forever to solve it. I’ve seen pictures of people experiencing this, and have heard some of their stories. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I want to try an escape room someday. It boggles the mind, though, as to how hard some of these can be to solve without instructions.
Now, imagine that it’s the first century and you’ve left your livelihoods to follow Jesus full time. Or, that you at least believe in what He’s got to say and so you travel along with Him any time you possibly can. There are dozens, and possibly even hundreds like you in this fledgling movement. You are convinced that He is the path to God that you should follow. But lately, He keeps hinting that he may not be with you much longer.
It boggles the mind that you might one day have to figure out how to get out of this life without Him — since you’ve just figured out how to live it with Him. You’ve put your trust in Him. You’ve staked your future on Him. Now, if you’re hearing things right, He may be leaving.
We are on a journey with Jesus that will end in Jerusalem in the 19th chapter of Luke’s gospel. These are things of emphasis to Jesus here at the end. Important words of instruction now that He knows what He seems to have known. Also, the 15th chapter of Luke holds a trilogy of parables.
In fact, the chapter is nothing but parables. A lost sheep is found, but only after the shepherd leaves the 99 others to find the one. There is a woman who lost a coin and had to look for it, which is our parable today in Luke 15:8-10. A lost or prodigal son is featured in the next parable, but he returned only after a time of self-evaluation, newfound awareness and humbled repentance.
The Church back then, just as today, thought that everyone should want to be a loyal part of it. But the Church back then, just as today, also thought that there was no place for sinners among them.
Which last time I checked, is really all of us. In fact, the Church back then, just as is so much the case today, assumed that the sinners were always someone else. Because it’s easy to see only those sins that are different from your own.
We miss its richness if we don’t pick up on the notion that all three parables here in Luke 15 are different versions of the same story. With the parables, we should always take on a role from within the story so that we can have a sympathetic viewpoint. What about being the woman who had been so careless as to lose her valuable coin? The coin might have been worth as much as 15 days’ wages. We don’t exactly recall a lot of wealthy widows in biblical times. The general notion was that they were among the poorest of the poor. So she needed to find it.
She finds the coin, then she does what is featured in this trilogy of parables. She calls in her friends and neighbors to celebrate. “I want you to have the joy I have because I have found something that was lost.” Verse 10 gives us a real “bend” in the story, because we get a narrative of interpretation that stops us from talking about a coin. Jesus essentially breaks the fourth wall, looks us all in the eye, and interprets the parable. “Just so, I tell you,” he says. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
You want to talk about good news? Somehow, that’s your story. It’s mine, too. Jesus wanted every last one of us to hear that story over and over and over again before He left.