Luke 15:1-10 “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people — even eating with them! 3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”
I don’t know how many times I have heard and read this story from scripture. Each time there is a new learning for me.
Most of the time I have rejoiced with the shepherd who finds the lost sheep. I have also wondered at the love of a God who would go searching for the lost, of which I am one.
In our small group study recently, we once again looked at this parable. I learned something new that adds depth to what I already have learned.
I already knew that in the eyes of the Pharisee, it was outrageous for Jesus to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Surely God’s love was saved for those who followed the laws; those seen as righteous!? The Pharisees are shocked to be compared to shepherds (whom they see as unclean).
But by His actions, Jesus is honoring sinners. That is good news for you and me, because that is exactly what Jesus does for us. He honors us with His presence, and just as in the culture of Jesus’ time, sinners bring honor to Jesus by being present.
How is it that God can so love us, that He invites us warts and all!
The Pharisees are filled with righteous indignation. Jesus responds with the story of the Lost Sheep. The story lifts up the joy of finding the lost.
The learning that had the most effect on me was in the two definitions of “repentance” that clash in the story. For the Pharisees, repentance was necessary to usher in the Kingdom of God. In other words, “Get your act together and change so that God can grace you and forgive you. Repent of your behaviors.”
But for Jesus, the Kingdom of God was at hand. The kingdom sat in their very presence. In that case, “repentance” is the response to recognizing the grace and love God has already extended. Repentance is the action we take when we realize we come as we are and honor God with our presence because of God.
We have nothing worthy of the honor He gives us. We are sheep that were lost, and many don’t even know it. We find ourselves scooped up in the arms of our loving shepherd and restored to community. And there is great rejoicing!
May we also recognize our need for a Savior, and in turn repent. May our churches invite us in, and present the Good News of salvation with the same realization that the kingdom of God is here.
None of us deserves it, but once we feel it, we cannot deny our relief. We are loved into the kingdom, carried by our Lord and Savior.