Jesus was speaking to a crowd gathered close around him. They were listening and he had their attention. Perhaps he was speaking about God’s love, or repentance, or maybe forgiveness. Whatever the topic, the crowd was enthralled.
It was an interesting group, not the typical assortment of people that follow a religious teacher. No, this crowd consisted of the rowdy, the uncouth, and detested swindlers—like modern day Hells Angels with a few used car salesmen thrown in the mix. Jesus welcomed them.
There were others in the crowd too, on the outskirts, standing a noticeable distance away. They didn’t want to get too close. They were guarding their wallets and their noses. They were the righteous—the religious leaders of the day. And they were not happy with the assembly. They were murmuring and sputtering to each other.
“Look at him. Look at Jesus. Look who he chooses to associate with—them—the tax collectors and sinners. He not only teaches them, but he eats with them too. He spends time with them. O, the horror.”
Jesus is sly. He sees the religious teachers hovering at the crowd’s edges. He hears their mutterings. So, he addresses the crowd, the whole crowd. He tells a story, and then another, and then one more. Three stories each with the same theme. He wants to drive his point home.
Story one: a shepherd loses a sheep, a single, lost, wandering sheep. The shepherd leaves his large flock and searches high and low, through hill and dale, until he finds the missing one and carries it safely home.
Story two: A woman loses a coin. She has nine others carefully tucked away in her purse, but she can not rest until she searches every dark corner of her house for the one lost coin. She is frantic, on her knees, peering under furniture, thrusting her face in the dusty places. And she does not relent until she clutches the coin securely in her fingers.
Story three: Finally, the last story. A father has two sons, but loses one. The son is not lost to death, nor by the father’s neglect; the son is not misplaced. The son chooses to leave and sow his wild oats. He spends his inheritance in the process. When the money runs out he learns of betrayal, and abandonment, and life’s tough lessons. He thinks of his father and returns home, penniless, friendless, and with a humbled heart. His father welcomes him with open arms.
The religious leaders in the crowd don’t like Jesus’s stories. Why doesn’t the shepherd stay with the ninety-nine well behaved sheep and leave the wayward one to fend for itself? Why does the woman need to find her lost coin? She has nine left—why waste her time and crawl around in the dirt? And the father? He has a perfectly good, obedient son still at home. He should focus on him and let the prodigal grovel in the squalor a little longer.
But Jesus wants them to understand. The shepherd loves his lost sheep. The coin is of great worth to the woman. And the son? How can a father stop loving his own precious child? Jesus makes it clear: He is really talking about God. God is the shepherd, the woman, and the father. His love is tenacious. He loves. He seeks. He wants to make the missing found. He longs to see life restored to deadened hearts, to give the wandering a place, and to carry the “sinner” home.
“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” Luke 15:10.
Jesus, Friend of Sinners (Part 2). Based on Luke 15:1-32.