Fred Craddock, a New Testament scholar, refers to the three “lost” parables in Luke 15 as “Three Parables of Joy.” He writes, “The three parables of chapter 15 are a trilogy in that all three speak of the joy of finding that which was lost.”
Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, a rabbi and Director of Religion, Spirituality and the Arts Initiative at Bulter University and Christian Theological Seminary, give readers a fresh take on the familiar parables in Luke 15 in Who Counts? These stories of Jesus are retold in modern-day settings and with modern, diverse characters.
The book unfolds in three narratives. The first, “One Hundred Sheep,” features a ranch with a white, bearded shepherd, complete with plaid flannel, jeans, and cowboy boots. As he counts his flock, he notices that one is missing. Without hesitation, he searches until he finds the one missing sheep. “Ten Coins” features an African-American woman with dark, curly hair who misplaces one of her silver coins. She searches her house with a flashlight until she finds it. In the final narrative, “Two Sons,” the writers retell the familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son, or as Craddock calls it, “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.” Here, the father and sons are Latino.
In the first two stories, children are encouraged to count the sheep and coins with the characters. Numbers are included in the illustrations to count by. And when counting sheep, children are introduced to counting by tens. In “Two Sons,” while reconciling with the older son, the father counts his two sons.
Also in all three stories, when the lost sheep, coin, or son is found, a party is thrown. And there is a wide range of diversity among the partiers as well. It is a true picture of the Kingdom of God. Many of the neighbors in the final story are those characters we met in the earlier two stories.
When I first read this to Toddler J I thought about how useful this book would be in a classroom setting at a preschool, school, or church. I imagined using it for chapel with preschoolers. And what a difference it would make for some of the three and four-year-olds to see characters that looked liked them.
Toddler J loved this book. She counted along with the shepherd and the woman. And she was engaged throughout the whole book. As a dad, I appreciated the wide range of diversity and modern retelling of these familiar parables.
At the end of the book is a helpful “Note to Parents and Teachers” that offers some interpretation and background to these parables. It also notes that parables invite the hearer to find themselves in the story. This is something the book does well for both the child and the adult.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.