Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke is perhaps one of the most profound "scriptural windows" into the mind, heart, and Spirit of God. It consists of three parables that tell the basic story of something (or someone) being lost and than being found. The first parable tells the tale of a wandering sheep, the second is about a woman and her a coin, and the "swan song" of Chapter 15 is about a wayward, "prodigal" son.
In the Gospel from today's Mass, we hear the first two parables of chapter 15: the wandering sheep and the woman and her coin. Before examining them more closely, it's important to consider what, precisely, a parable is and how it functions as a literary genre. A parable compares two or more aspects of reality in narrative form in order to communicate a moral, ethical, or religious point. The word literally means to "lay side by side" or to compare. Because of the highly symbolic and oftentimes "colorful" nature of parables, they allow for multiple interpretations and "work" on the imagination in a powerful and expansive manner. Jesus makes use of parables extensively to help "stretch" the imagination of his hearers so that they can experience human life and God in a more dynamic, transformative manner.
When Jesus begins todays two parables with the questions, "what man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? and "What woman having 10 coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?", he essentially lays the groundwork for a parallel comparison between the human "reality" and God's "reality" in order to reveal something astounding about God.
It shouldn't take us too terribly long to come to the conclusion that very few, if any, shepherds would leave 99 sheep in the harsh, dangerous environs of the desert and go searching after one lost sheep. To put it bluntly, he would likely simply "cut his losses." Similarly, if a woman dropped a coin and still had 9 at her disposal, she might bend down and sweep the immediate area where she thought it landed, but if she didn't find it she likely "wouldn't sweat it" and would simply wait until the light in the house was better and search in earnest then.
When Jesus taught these two parables, I imagine he had a bit of a mischievous smirk and tone to his voice. In so many words, he's saying to his hearers "of course you would do this" when they actually wouldn't! The human response in these situations really isn't at issue. The very human, understandable, and reasonable reaction of "cutting loses" and "not sweating it" serves as a foil to reveal a surprising image of an anxious and restless God who never cuts losses and patiently "sweats it out" looking to find what is lost or has fallen. A contemporary and popular Christian song written by Kirk Franklin proclaims that, "Our God is an Awesome God." While this is no doubt true, today's Gospel also proclaims that "Our God is a Restless God" who is constantly on the search, looking to reclaim the lost and to pick up the fallen. Pat, TOR