Recently I have been taking an on-line course in story-telling. I may use it for writing, though the course instructor comes from a background in movies and performing arts. The instructor has a basic definition of a story that raises some interesting questions:
Story: a hero's struggle against an obstacle to reach a goal.
Let's grant that as a working definition and look at Jesus' "parables of the lost" through that lens.
The lost sheep
Some things are obvious: The hero is the shepherd. The obstacle is the sheep's running off. The goal is the safe return of the sheep. The hero's motive drives the story: the hero values the sheep. The key point of interest is that the shepherd has reason not to bother, but cares anyway. That is Jesus' picture of God: surely we can think of reasons why he might not care -- and while we're lost it will look like he does not care -- but he cares anyway.
The lost coin
Another story with the same point: valuing what is lost, and the belief that what is lost is worth the trouble to find.
The prodigal son
We could look at this story from more than one angle.
If the hero is the father, then the struggle is hidden in the waiting and the loving, and the goal is reconciliation. And yet the action does not follow the father, and from the story's viewpoint we might look somewhere else for the main character.
If the hero of the story is the lost son, he has a lot of struggles. He begins the story by gaining money and losing his father as his goal is wealth. He struggles with whether joy comes from material pleasure. Whether acceptance comes from riches. Whether riches are sustainable without production of more. Whether security is possible alone without human connections. By the end of the story, the son has reversed entirely: he has lost all the money but regains his father. There is a celebration. He has gained acceptance without wealth, joy without material pleasure, and security through human connection.
In what sense is the lost son the hero? He's not a traditional hero: his actions lead from bad to worse, and the only thing he contributes to the happy ending is trusting, hoping, that he will receive some kind of welcome as he returns home.