Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around 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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors 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 persons who do not need to repent.
Luke 15:1-8 (NIV)
When you consider the emphasis that we have in this text on intentionally searching for those that have lost their way, we see that one of the priorities of God’s kingdom is finding lost souls. The tension in these verses is: What spirit does God want us to have as imperfect people interacting with other imperfect people? This chapter teaches us what God’s expectations are.
The stewards of the religious practice can sometimes be judgmentally critical, particularly of the kinds of people that Jesus is embracing and fellowshipping with. The Pharisees did not view those who were sinners to be fit for the kingdom of God. Of course, that begs the question “Who could possibly get in?” Ultimately, the Pharisees believed that only the people they deemed worthy were fit for the kingdom of God, and anyone unlike them was disqualified. Of course, we see from the passage above that this thinking is flawed. Jesus proclaims that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The indictment that the Pharisees have of Jesus is that He is welcoming of people categorized as sinners. Despite these ‘sinners’ being denied entrance to the synagogue, Jesus invites them to sit with Him and enjoy a meal. By eating with and welcoming sinners, Jesus highlighted the sin in the hospitality of the Pharisees.
“The Parable of the Lost Coin” and “the Parable of the Lost Son” follow the parable above in Luke 15. Each of these parables deal with loss, repentance and reclamation. Through these parables Jesus teaches us that we ought to exhibit a welcoming spirit. It is not easy for someone to open the door of their hearts and lives to us, especially when they feel they have lived their lives in a way that is contrary to what you may believe. When those we interact with have a desire to in some way be made whole, they must be able to sense the compassion of the Lord through our interactions with them.
By welcoming imperfect people, we do more than just tolerate them and survive encounters. Instead, we gladly accept those who God has placed in our lives, so that we can be a light and a bridge that points the way to Christ.