Luke 15: 1 – 10 The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’
Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘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? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” 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.
‘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? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
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St Luke describes tax collectors and sinners gathering round to hear Jesus. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the Pharisees and teachers of the law who witness to the character of Jesus, because St Luke tells us that they muttered ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’
An orthodox Jew would have avoided sinners, so as not to be made ritually unclean. Jesus, by contrast, welcomes them and socialises with them. No wonder they gathered round him!
We’re not told here whether they accept Jesus’ teaching; I don’t expect many of them did. But that’s not the point; the point is that at least some of them repented.
Hearing the mutterings of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus tells two little stories. They’re very simple, but they say something very profound.
In the first, a man loses a sheep. Leaving the rest of his flock to take care of themselves, he hunts for the lost sheep until he finds it. He finds it, carries it back home and rejoices publicly that the sheep is safe home again.
In the second, a woman loses a silver coin. She stops what she’s doing, and uses every effort to find the lost coin, sweeping out the house, and lighting a lamp to see into dark corners and recesses. And when she finds it, she publicly rejoices.
Jesus likens a sinful human to the lost coin or the lost sheep. The one lost is just one out of a large number who aren’t lost – one out of a hundred sheep; one out of ten coins. When God finds them and brings them home, heaven rejoices.
Now, these parables were told in response to mutterings of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and there is a temptation to view them as a swipe at hypocrisy. Verse 7 says ‘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.’ Do we think that the ninety-nine righteous people are hypocrites?
I, personally, don’t think so. The message of Jesus here is about inclusion, not exclusion. These two parables are about why Jesus is spending time with sinners, not about hypocrisy. Once we have repented and committed ourselves to following Jesus, we’re righteous. Heaven rejoiced over us when we repented and became Christians; now it’s someone else’s turn! That is not to say that we are without recognition or reward, for what could be better than to be a part of the kingdom of God?
The core message of these two short tales is to tell us Jesus’ priority; it is to bring sinners into the kingdom of God.
We are called to imitate Jesus. Where is saving sinners on our list of priorities?
The church is the Body of Christ. How active is our church in bringing sinners into the kingdom of God?
Thank you for Jesus, for his life, for his ministry, for his death and for his resurrection. Thank you for calling us to continue his work. Please strengthen our faith and our desire to serve you day by day.
In Jesus’ name, Amen