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Luke 15:1–7 ESV
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, 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 persons who need no repentance.
Good things happen to good people, right?
When you see a successful person, you see a good person.
If you want to hear support for this in the Bible, it’s there; after all, God is a good God.
He likes righteousness.
And he is the source of all blessing.
Covenant blessings about Israel obeying God and parents translates not only to getting into the promised land, but living long there.
The book of Proverbs tells us all kinds of good things to expect from being a good person.
And how can we forget The Prayer of Jabez?
But then we get to Jesus.
He’s teaching, and it’s a very particular kind of crowd gathering around him.
Luke describes them as tax collectors and sinners.
This is not what we’d expect from what we see in the Old Testament.
We would expect winners, good people, people that have it together.
But instead, gathering around Jesus are the bad people, the losers, the outcast, the people who disregarded the wisdom found in the Law and looked out for themselves.
Those are the people Luke points out as gathering around Jesus.
Scholars think in this context that this label of sinners, would be literally accurate, but was likely made up of people too poor for a proper education.
They didn’t know the Law, and so they weren’t following it.
So, if God favors the good people, and if Jesus really is God, why would the sinners be gathering near to Jesus?
It seems like a fair enough question.
And the Pharisees grumble it out.
One reason, if you look over the previous chapter, is that Jesus had been teaching about banquets, banquets where the winners were too busy winning and so they were disinvited.
Instead in these parables, new invitations go out to the losers, people sleeping outside, some of them on whatever drugs were available in first century Palestine.
Some of them had abandoned their families, others abandoned by their families.
People seen as cursed, those who couldn’t walk right or at all, people who couldn’t see, or couldn’t hear, for whom it seemed that God wasn’t with them.
The invitations were not only withdrawn from the winners and extended to the bad-things-happen-to-bad-people people.
But in Jesus’s parable, the master of the banquet instructs his servants to compel these abandoned, lawless people, seemingly cursed by God, to come to the banquet.
And this is friendly compelling, like a “compelling” story.
It’s not a kidnap someone and force them to go somewhere kind of compelling.
In Jesus’ stories about banquets, the master tells the servants to do whatever they can to convince the losers, the accursed, the law-breakers to come to his banquet.
And the winnings that the winners wouldn’t let go of, a field, some oxen, some nice new things, chasing after those winnings shows them to be losers, not from merely possessing them, but from holding them so tightly that they chose their winnings over the heavenly banquet.
This resulted in losing an invitation, a chance to even change their minds and go to the master’s banquet anyway.
So this is the kind of story Jesus had been telling.
He’d been telling winners not to throw banquets for their winner friends so everyone could revel in their winning.
But to go find the people who were different from them.
Go find those who lacked, who couldn’t increase their social standing or impress them with a banquet of their own.
Go find those people who will probably drop your china and stain your great grandmother’s wing-backed chair, go find those people and invite them over for a banquet, with your good stuff, not hamburgers and hotdogs, but veal and lobster and champagne.
The GOOD champagne.
Not the they-won’t-know-the-difference-anyway champagne.
Throw those people a banquet if you want God to smile when he looks down on you.
What banquet-throwing winner would want to hear this?
So as Jesus is telling it like it is, there was probably a bit more room by him than the winners would normally give up.
There were a lot more good seats open.
And the bad people, the losers, the sinners, were grabbing their lunch and scooting right up to hear more.
And this is when the Pharisees speak up.
They were obviously not listening because they accuse Jesus of eating with sinners, which is exactly what he had been instructing people to do.
Either they just showed up or hadn’t been listening, or they were just holiness robots.
After listening to Jesus talk about banquets where the whole point is that it’s ok to eat with sinners, all they can see is that he’s eating with sinners.
They don’t even engage with the teaching, they are just too fixated on their small categories, their small rules, their small god, that they can’t hear actual God when he actually speaks.
They just echo back the rules like robots.
They are acting like what C. S. Lewis called “men without chests.”
Their minds worked.
They know the rules.
Their guts worked.
When they saw the rules violated, they could get terribly indignant, even angry.
Their emotional reflexes worked.
But they lacked hearts, chests, real human decency.
They were shells of the image of God.
They couldn’t see what was important.
They couldn’t connect the dots and see how the Law of God pointed to love in the context of righteousness, not just righteousness for its own sake.
And so, Jesus goes on to connect the dots for them.
This parable in Luke is the first of three parables about lost things; this one is about a lost sheep.
The next parable is about lost coins and the last one is about a lost, prodigal son.
Jesus had been teaching about losers being acceptable to God and now Jesus ratchets things up a step further.
Not only are the losers acceptable, not only can they fill a spot at a banquet, they are worth leaving the rest to pursue.
He puts it in terms any lingering winners might understand.
What man of you having a hundred sheep (since you’re winners and totally have a hundred sheep) if he’s lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
For the grumbling Pharisees who knew Scripture like the back of their hand, they would have received a coded message.
For the rest of the listeners, it’s a truly hope- and life-giving illustration of love that is unearned.
For the winners, the people who knew their Bible, it was a blatant throw-back to Ezekiel 34.
There the Lord talks about gathering in the lost sheep.
Let’s turn there for a second and see if you agree that there’s a connection between Jesus’ parable and this passage in Ezekiel 34.
The Lord is talking about sheep.
We’ll pick it up in the middle.
If you look at verse 11, it reads:
11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.
12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
The Lord is seeking out the lost sheep.
So when Jesus calls for the lost sheep to be sought out, he is showing that he’s doing the things that God does.
Look at verse 15:
15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.
16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.
I will feed them in…justice.
This boldly answers the Pharisees inference that Jesus should be disregarded for associating with lawless, sinful, lost people.
In fact, Jesus is doing what God does.
Which says a lot about Jesus.
We are seeing a fulfillment of Ezekiel 34.
At the end of this passage in Ezekiel, we see that God after gathering the lost sheep, places them under the care of his servant David.
Look at verse 23:
23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.
I am the LORD; I have spoken.
Jesus’s parable about lost sheep not only beautifully reflects God’s care for even the most hopelessly lost sheep, this parable claims a LOT about Jesus.
If you look earlier, this chapter in Ezekiel is even more biting when applied to the Pharisees.
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