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Gospel according to Luke 15: 1-10 (NIV)
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
As we examine the parables of Jesus, it is prudent to observe to whom Jesus directed his teaching. Here, Luke shows that tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. They evidently realised he was speaking directly into their own situations. Luke’s comment that “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered” (verse 1) infers that these were not initially the ones Jesus was teaching. It seems they were in the background, listening to what was going on, perhaps deliberately noting anything they could use to discredit Jesus.
Jesus then redirected his message. In response to their mutterings that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them”, Jesus targeted them directly with these parables.
Of interest, a parable about a missing sheep appears also in the Gospel according to Matthew. There Jesus began with this command, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (18: 10). Although Matthew recorded that Jesus was then speaking to his disciples, his injunction is apt if we apply it to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. It seems they despised the tax collectors and sinners who were in Jesus’ audience. More broadly, “these little ones” refers to people in the world who are not famous, powerful, wealthy or important. But “these little ones” are loved by God and regarded by God as valuable – equally as valuable as those who are not lost.
There is a twist to this tale. The sinners needing to repent were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They were equally loved by God; he yearned for them to realise that Jesus was trying to teach them too. Pride, love of wealth and status, failure to care for the under-privileged – these were the kinds of sins which stood in the way of their relationships with the God they claimed to represent.
Which are you: the lost sheep or one of the other ninety-nine, the lost coin or one of the others for which no search was necessary? Do you rejoice with the angels in heaven when another is drawn into the kingdom of God?