Luke 15:1 – 7
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
Luke now changes settings – the previous segment had begun with a dinner at a Pharisee’s home, but here the Pharisees and scribes complain about who Jesus eats with. We have seen that where one sat at a table in their culture was a matter of honor. But who one ate with was also important – there were those who were accepted as a part of society, and those who were not. Jesus has already told those he met at dinner a parable about going out and finding the lame, the blind, and the crippled to fill the table. These were outcasts, people who would not have been invited to sit at the table in the Pharisee’s home. But there were others whom the Pharisees and scribes would never have even allowed into their homes, would have crossed the street to avoid – these were the tax collectors and sinners. Anyone who did not follow the law as the Pharisees saw and measured it (yes, measured is the word I intended here, as they literally measured how many steps one could take, etc.), was considered a sinner, as well as those whose sins were obvious to them, such as collecting taxes for Rome with a little left over for themselves. And so, when the sinners and the tax collectors gather around, eager to hear and see Jesus, the Pharisees and the scribes, the religious leaders, complain. He welcomes these sinful people, and even eats with them!
And so, Jesus tells a parable about a shepherd – he has 100 sheep, but when one goes missing, he leaves the 99 and goes out onto the rocky hillsides looking for the one that is lost. The territory might be rocky and dangerous with crags and gullies and sudden drops. But this shepherd knows and loves each and every one of his sheep. His heart in his throat, he looks deep into the ravines, looks for signs of a wolf. And when he finds the sheep, who is bleating, distressed at being separated from its flock, he rejoices! He puts the sheep on his shoulders and returns home, rejoicing! And he calls together all his friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
Jesus is giving us a picture of himself – he is the Good Shepherd – he cares for each of his sheep. And this is also a picture of God; after all, Jesus does only God’s will. And it is a picture of heaven, where there is rejoicing over one who is found.
What is Jesus telling the Pharisees of his time? Don’t shut people out! You religious leaders were always intended to bring people to God, not to burden them and shut them out.
What is Jesus telling us? Don’t shut people out! The Church was always intended to bring people to God, not to burden them and shut them out. Draw the circle wider – be loving and welcoming to all God’s sheep!