so I started working on an article for about moving past anti-Jewish interpretations of the Lost Coin/Sheep/Sons parable trilogy, and it's taking forever because there are always more and worse Christian commentary traditions out there, but... thing that's really interesting to me is almost all of the commentaries assume that the questions "[Who among you] doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" and...
"Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds [the lost coin]?" are serious rather than ironic framing for the Lost Sons parable.
Because as a few commentators have pointed out, if you have 100 sheep, and 1 strays, and you leave behind the other 99 to go search for the 1, when you return, you will have 1 sheep. Sheep stray.

(also I'm very curious as to what meat's featured in the party afterward)
Similarly, the woman in the Lost Coin parable spends all this time searching for a coin that amounts to about a day's wages, then throws a party for her friends. All that effort and expense probably totals more than the coin is worth.
Christian commentaries tend to either ignore the older brother in the Lost Sons parable to focus on the reunion between the father and younger brother, or use him as a negative example of people who are unforgiving.
They almost always ignore the actual framing of that decision, in which the older brother hears the sound of rejoicing from the house and has to ask a servant what's going on.
Or as Amy-Jill Levine points out, somewhat tartly, Dad had time to hire a band and caterers, and invite all the neighbors, but didn't have time to talk to his son about what was happening.
She characterizes the story as being about a father who couldn't count to 2, after a man with 100 sheep who manages to notice when 1 out of that 100 goes missing, and a woman with 10 coins who manages to notice when 1 out of that 10 goes missing.
But having spent some time on a synagogue board of directors, and talked a lot with several rabbis about the struggles to run a congregation, and having read a lot of Christian clergy on here talking about those same struggles, I hear something really different in the story.
And I think that, just as with the Pharisee and Tax Collector story, the need for a binary, for one character to be right and one character to be wrong, for one to be good and one to be bad, dictates a meaning that isn't necessarily in the text.
As does the desire to read the father as an allegory for God, and therefore to see him as a figure of perfect love, rather than as a human being who may be loving, but can also not necessarily be acting in the wisest way possible.
So Dad, unlike the searchers in the first two stories, doesn't go out and search for the younger son when he's been gone long enough that Dad thinks he might be dead. And he forgets to even let his older son know what's going on.
He has two sons, and he can't keep track of either of them.

Either he's so overwhelmed at seeing Son #2 that he forgets that Son #1 exists, or he's trying to make it up to Son #1 by promising that everything he has still belongs to him--what happens to Son #2 when Dad dies?
And when I read this story, with its initial monofocus on the younger son who leaves and then comes back, as opposed to the older son who's been faithfully maintaining the estate so younger son has a fatted calf to eat when he comes back, makes me think of something my rabbi said
Which is something along the lines of "People always think they're going to have a synagogue, or some sort of Jewish community, for when someone dies, or their kid needs a bnei mitzvah, or when they want to get married. But communities don't just *happen.*
"And they don't just *continue to exist.* Someone has to be keeping the lights on."
And, as someone who's done a fair amount of fundraising and working for arts groups and other nonprofits, how good it feels to catch the big fish. The donor you didn't think you were going to get.
And I imagine, if you're professional clergy, that it's really easy to become dazzled by the shiny new people who are joining, or the person who got alienated and is giving it a second chance.
And that goes for all of us in the community. The dramatic returner is always going to draw attention.

Who's keeping the lights on?
(It's usually women, and older women, the most invisible women, at that.)
At the same time, it's not just a matter of letting people come to you. We shouldn't be letting anyone in the community get left behind.

Not everyone's dramatic about leaving. Not everyone's dramatic about when come in, don't feel welcome, and slip out again.
But most of all, people aren't usually dramatic about drifting away.

And I think it's important to make sure that, for any community, we're always counting. Who hasn't made contact in a while? Are they okay? Do they need something they're not getting?
Who aren't we counting? Who's being made to feel like they don't count?
At the same time, though, we also need to make sure we're seeing and acknowledging the work of the people who are keeping the lights on.
I'm not just talking about religious communities, by the way. I mean *any* group.

I mean that friend who's the one who's always hosting get-togethers. Who always remembers everyone's birthday.
The one who just... makes sure friends see each other regularly.
Like, to me, the father in this story failed both his sons, and we see him trying to make up for it, but it's not clear whether that works.

He doesn't ask his younger son why he wants to leave, or try to stop him. He doesn't go look for him.
And he completely forgets to acknowledge the older son enough to even *let him know his brother is back and they're having a party*.
He seems like a nice enough guy, and a loving dad, but not a particularly *active* participant in either relationship. He's completely reactive.
And that loses him both his sons. He gets Junior back, but it's not as clear about Senior.
Anyway, I feel like focusing on comparing the sons is missing the point entirely.

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