Luke presents three parables of something which is "lost" [ἀπόλλυμι] being "found" [εὑρίσκω]. The first is a lost sheep, the second a lost coin, and the third a lost son. After the first two are found there is a call for others to rejoice [συγχαίρω] with the person who found what had been lost:

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ (Luke 15:6 ESV)

And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ (Luke 15:9 ESV)

However, in the third parable, no one goes to find the son who the father says was lost and there is a "celebration" [εὐφραίνω] when he is "found:"

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:24 ESV)

It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:32 ESV)

In the the first two parables Jesus pointed out someone took action to find what was lost. Yet when the father lost his son, neither he or anyone else went to look for him. Why didn't the father go or send someone to find his son and tell him he was welcome to come back home?

  • Questions on this site should reference particular verses. Please indicate to which specific verses your question applies. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Aug 1 '17 at 11:08
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    .the whole of Luke 15 ....but the father said he was lost and found.... – BaYo Gabriels Omolegbe Aug 1 '17 at 14:49
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    @Bʀɪᴀɴ In context the metaphorical use is dead and alive not lost and found. The son, the sheep and the coin were all "lost" in sense of not knowing their current location identified by their absence from the group. Also since the use of lost is the same in all three parables, the question of why not going to find is valid regardless of whether "lost" is taken as literal or metaphoric. – Revelation Lad Aug 1 '17 at 17:11
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    @RevelationLad - "The son, the sheep and the coin were all "lost" in sense of not knowing their current location" - I'm not sure that is actually the case. What evidence do we have that either the Father did not know the location of his son? Perhaps he was merely respecting his right to sow his wild oats? – James Shewey Aug 1 '17 at 21:47
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    @JamesShewey We know because it is a parable, "a short didactic story that illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principle." The point of the parable is found in the details of the story included not in possibilities of details which were not part of the parable. What if the shepherd found the 1 lost sheep and returned to the flock to find 10 killed by wolves? Was he wrong in looking for the 1? There are numerous possibilities which have nothing to do with understanding the actual parable as it was given. – Revelation Lad Aug 2 '17 at 6:06

The parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7 notes that the shepherd went after the one lost sheep when he realized it was missing from the others. It is the same situation for the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10. The woman searches for the coin after she realizes it is missing from the other nine coins.

The son in Luke 15:11-31 is a different scenario. The son voluntarily and purposely left to a far country and knew exactly where he was all the time he was gone. This is why was able to go back to his father's house when he realized his mistake.

No one went looking for the son because the son did not want to be at his father's house anymore. The father had metaphorically lost one of his sons, since he purposely went far away from his father.

If a sheep is separated from the flock, it will not eventually try to come back. Instead it will wander around endlessly unless sought for and brought back by the shepherd.

A man is not like this. He has reasoning powers higher than that of sheep and other animals, and he must be convinced in his own mind to willingly come back to his father's house. From Oosterzee's Commentary on Luke 15:

6. The grace of God to the returning prodigal is exhibited, in this parable, in its pitying and restoring aspect. The father does not, in this instance, seek his son, as the shepherd had his sheep, and the woman her piece of money. He has not to deal with an irrational being, but with a rational man, who must be brought to choose, for himself, the way of truth. The father has, however, been indirectly working for his recovery, by allowing him to bear all the consequences of his transgressions; he has, besides, been waiting patiently, and keeping both his heart and his house open to him. Scarcely does the son take his first homeward step, than the father observes him with a compassionate eye, goes to meet him [...] and while he does not refuse his confession of sin, remits so much of it as was painful and humiliating. He not only testifies his joy at the prodigal's return, but proves it; and not only pardons him, but reinstates him in the possession of the forfeited rights and privileges of sonship.

-Theological and Homiletical Commentary on the Gospel of St Luke, Volume 2. Johannes Jacobus van Oosterzee, edited by Johann Peter Lange and translated by Sophia Taylor. Edinburgh, 1867.

The son went off on his own to the sorrow of the father, but fortunately came back some time later. The father metaphorically lost but then regained a son. In this sense the son allowed himself to be “found” by presenting himself to his father again. The father going after his son would not have helped the situation, for the son needed time to realize the error of his ways.

  • Scenarios that cover a coin, a sheep, and a person correspond to three states of consciousness, hence responsibility and response. Contrasting these three parables are a legitimate form of exegesis in my opinion and speaks volumes. Thank you, Brian. – Dieter Aug 7 '17 at 22:21

I think the simplest answer to your question is that there is nothing in the text of the parable that leads us to conclude that the father knew, in fact, that the son was "lost".

The only thing we know from the Scripture is that the younger son asked for his inheritance early (Luke 15:11a), and that the father simply granted his request (Luke 15:11b).

The son asked for his independence and was granted what he was asked. There is nothing in Luke that leads us to believe that the son had any kind of contact with the father until he returned, nor that the father had any idea of how the son was squandering his life during the absence.


The third parable, unlike the first two, has several possible focal points. Judith Lieu says:

The third parable, although picking up the themes of lost and found (vv.24,32), is far more than a variation on the earlier two, and the profound influence it has had on literary and artistic imagination shows how difficult it is to limit to a single message. This is reflected by the different titles it has been given, each seeking to pinpoint the central focus of the story – ‘the prodigal (or spendthrift) son’, ‘the lost son’, ‘the loving father’, ‘the two sons’. The first two of these proposed titles bring out the continuity from the earlier parables in the chapter, with ‘prodigal’ emphasizing that in this case the son is responsible for his ‘lostness’. The third recognizes that the father, in response to both his sons, far more than the sheep-owner or the woman, can be seen as in some ways representing God. The last seeks to restore the final scene (vv.25-32) from being an insignificant appendix to the main story: the theme of two sons or bothers is a common one not only in the biblical tradition but also in many other cultures, while the contrast between two types of response is a frequent one in Jesus’ parables (Luke 18.9-14; Matt. 25.1-13 and especially 21.28-32).1

One obvious difference between the three parables is the starting point. The first two begin after the loss had occurred; the third begins when everything is "accounted for." At the most basic level, no one went looking for the son since, as Lieu notes, “the son is responsible for his ‘lostness.’” A significant contrast to the other two parables is the timing of learning what is "missing." The father knew his son left. In the others the loss was discovered after it occurred.

The third parable also differs as it gives details how and when what is "lost" came to be "missing". Given these circumstances going out to “find” him would likely not change anything unless the son had a change of heart, which, as the parable shows, would also cause the son to return on his own. At this level, the father can only hope the change will occur and wait for his son's return.

However, as Lieu notes, the Prodigal Son parable is more complex than the other two and presents different ways in which to approach the meaning. For instance, when the son was in a far country, he spent everything. When this occurs the son is in a situation much like his father's: he has "lost" something but he knows the reason and the time the loss occurred.

At this point in the parable, Jesus introduces a second decision the son makes:

So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. (Luke 15:15) 2

Note: [a] Luke 15:15 Greek joined himself to

Most translations like the ESV, suggest the son "hired" himself. In fact the word Jesus used describes a more significant arrangement:

And he went and cleaved (ἐκολλήθη) to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine. (Luke 15:15 DRA)

The word used means “to glue together, to join or fasten firmly together; to join one’s self to, to cleave to” [κολλάω]. Note how the word is used in the letter to the Corinthians:

Or do you not know that he who is joined[a] to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)

Note: [a] - 1 Corinthians 6:16 Or who holds fast (compare Genesis 2:24 and Deuteronomy 10:20); also verse 17

The referenced verses:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. (Deuteronomy 10:20)

As seen from these verses, the type of commitment made with the citizen of another country is described as one on the level of marriage or one’s commitment to the LORD God. After the initial separation from his father, the son did something else which could be seen as renouncing his father’s family, an act which may have caused a second, more permanent separation. This is evident as when the son comes to his senses and recognizes he may have lost his position as a member of the family and is no longer a son:

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15:18-19)

Therefore, at this level, it is the younger son who went (from a field in distant country) to look for what he assumed he had lost (his position as a son) and like the woman’s coin, he found it in the house (where he had first left it). Here the meaning is the father's love and commitment to his family overrides both the ill-advised choice to leave and to cleave to another person in another country, when the son has a change of heart and wants to return to the family.

And the parable continues…

The older son like the younger returns to the house from a field:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. (Luke 15:25)

When the father learns the other son is “missing” (from the house where he belongs), like the sheep-owner and the woman, he goes to find him:

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him.(Luke 15:28)

The father recognizes the older's son choice, is made in anger and immediately goes to find what was lost: the oldest son's joy of a restored family. Unlike the the younger son's change of heart which requires time to "come to his senses" the older son can have an immediate change of heart, drop his anger and join in the rejoicing simply because the father makes this request.

Thus the element of going after what was lost which is not present in the father seeking the younger son, is present in two other ways in this parable:

  • The Prodigal Son went looking for his status as a son.
  • The father went looking for the other son who was missing from the house of celebration.

1. Judith Lieu, The Gospel of Luke, Epworth, 1997, p. 120
2. ESV except as noted.


The reason no one went out to look for the prodigal son was because ,the elder(presbytery) brother,who was meant to go , went out in to another field (agros) rather than going in to the far country(chora) where his younger brother was... Its the responsibility of the church to go into the far countries to look for the lost rather than going into the field (agro=agriculture) to do business.

  • the fields Jesus talked about in John4v35 which was white and ready for harvest is chora: the far country where the prodigal son was lost, Not Agros.

Jesus spoke the three parables to draw our attention to what "elder brothers" should do concerning the lost!

Please note that the first two parables were questions (Who amongst you will lose...and not go out to look for?)

Jesus answered the questions with the third parable.

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