The three parables contained in chapter fifteen of the Gospel of Luke are a tightly woven trio anchored on either side by closely related teachings. The preceding chapter gives instruction on humility and hospitality, telling the reader to open the invitation to one’s meal table to all, including the poor, the sick, and the unclean. In the following chapter the reader finds instructions for how to use wealth to benefit those same people. In the middle of these we find chapter fifteen, containing the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal and his brother. As a part of the triplet, the parable of the lost sheep challenges the reader to not only invite the poor into one’s community, but to receive them as family with joy and celebration.
The Gospel itself was most likely written to a mostly Gentile, urban audience and consistently shows a preferential option for the poor. Readers see numerous instances where the author depicts Jesus as claiming the poor as those who will receive the blessings of Heaven and instructing his followers about the dangers of possessions and wealth. It is obvious that the evangelist was concerned with how his or her local community was responding to the poor and how they were gaining and using their wealth.
A parallel of the parable of the lost sheep is found in the Gospel of Matthew. The remaining two parables in chapter fifteen of this Gospel are unique. The reader may assume that the source of the material found in and around this passage comes from both Q and Special L. The use of triplets is common in Luke and that is precisely the literary technique we find in chapter fifteen. The parable of the lost coin that follows the lost sheep is almost identical in content. The third parable in chapter fifteen, the parable of the prodigal and his brother, expands on the two previous parables, giving the reader a greater context in which to grasp the thematic elements.
The parable of the lost sheep is placed within section of the Gospel known as the travel narrative, thus it is a part of Jesus’s instruction to his disciples on their journey to Jerusalem. However, this parable is directly addressing the Pharisees and scribes who are questioning Jesus’s practice of eating with sinners. Along with the evangelist’s concern for the poor, we see an attempt in the parable of the lost sheep to depict Jesus’s ministry as a natural extension of the Jewish religion.
The location of this parable allows it to extend the message of the previous chapter. The previous chapter’s teaching asks the people to change their customs. The reader is told to invite “…the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” For those in the Jewish community, eating meals together was one of the most intimate interactions they would have engaged in. They would have reserved this for only their closest friends and family. The idea of opening their meals to fellowship with those outside of their intimate family and...