In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a few parables to a group of grumbling scribes and Pharisees. The third parable in the series (Luke 15:11-32) usually overshadows the first one (Luke 15:3-7). Let’s start with the first one—the parable of the lost sheep.
The parable is short. The grumblers, who are grumbling about Jesus having the nerve to welcome sinners and even (shudder) eat with them, are asked to put themselves in the place of a shepherd who has a flock of 100 sheep—but one is missing. Who among you, says Jesus, wouldn’t leave the 99 where they are and go searching for the lost one? And once you’ve found the lost one, wouldn’t you carry it home and call all your friends and neighbors to help you celebrate? That’s what happens in heaven, Jesus tells them, when one sinner repents, when one lost sheep is brought home.
This little parable kind of reminds me of Jesus’ discourse after the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48), where he says, over and over, “You have heard that it was said . . .” and then intensifies the scriptural command with “But I say to you. . . .” For example: You’ve heard that we should love our neighbor and hate our enemy? Well, I say that we should love our enemy too. Well, I say that we should go find that one stray sheep. I say we should search for that one lost coin. I say we should run and embrace that wayward son before he can even apologize for worrying us so.
God loves sinners
Pretty bold, this Jesus fellow who welcomes sinners! And that brings us back to those grumbling scribes and Pharisees. They would have gotten Jesus’ point: Those lost sheep, lost coins, and lost sons are always beloved, even before we find them and welcome them home. God loves sinners even before we repent. And that’s why Jesus welcomes sinners because that’s what his Father in heaven does.
But if we all did that, wouldn’t that lead to all kinds of shocking situations—like loving sinners as our neighbors, or Samaritans, or even Roman soldiers, like the centurion whose servant Jesus heals (Matthew 8:5-13)? You can’t possibly mean that, can you, Jesus? Oh, yes. Jesus means it. And he keeps on welcoming and forgiving and loving sinners.
Even sinners like us. Even sinners like me. Thanks be to God.
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