Religious people have a habit of criticising those whose lives did not live up to their high standards. Jesus told three stories to demonstrate how deeply and dearly God cares for people who go off the traditional rails.
A Palestinian shepherd who lost a sheep would have to let it go; his responsibility was to stay with the rest of the flock. But the shepherd in Jesus’ story abandons all his other sheep to find the one that had wandered off. That’s what God is like.
Anyone who loses a valuable coin might search their house until they find it. But the woman in Jesus’ story continues her search through the night, and then calls her friends round for a party to celebrate finding it. That’s what God is like.
And then there is the story of the forgiving father, who’s younger son fritters away half the family’s ancestral heritage. When he finally returns home, penniless and starving, the father welcomes him like a victorious hero. That’s what God is like. Then, when the disapproving older brother refuses to join the celebrations, his father pleads with him to reconsider, pointing out that he loves them both.
Jesus’ portrait of God is undignified, unjudgmental and ready for a party whenever someone who was lost is finally found.
That’s what God is like.