Many of you have heard the old joke: "When is a door not a door?" The answer to this riddle is: "When it is 'ajar.' " In conversations all over the world today, people will ask a similar question: "When is a person not a person?" In many cases, the answer will be: "When it is a rapist, a murderer, a bum, a fetus, dying in a nursing home, homeless, a prostitute, etc."
In today's Gospel parables, Jesus talks about a lost sheep and a lost silver piece. In both situations, it is obvious to all that the lost article still has worth and value. Moreover, the sheep and the coin are consistently referred to as "sheep" and "silver piece," whether they are in a state of being lost or in their rightful place.
Luke follows today's parables with the parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32). This time, a person is lost. Now that people are involved, there is suddenly a colossal identity crisis. It's no longer obvious that the lost person has any more worth. The younger son no longer sees himself as son, but as slave (Lk 15:18-19). The elder brother calls the lost person "his father's son" (see Lk 15:30) rather than "my brother"; he also forgets his own identity and calls himself a slave rather than a son (Lk 15:29). Only the father sees the true relationships. He calls both boys "sons" (Lk 15:24, 31) and tells them that they are "brothers" (Lk 15:32).
Jesus is telling us that just as a coin and a sheep do not cease being coins and sheep no matter what their state in life, so people are still God's precious children no matter what their status. "Dearly beloved, we are God's children now" (1 Jn 3:2).