Red Letter Year: 8/19

Luke 15.1-10

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people — even eating with them!

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”


The last thing Jesus said in ch. 14 was “everyone who has ears should listen.” Remember, the chapter and verse divisions were added much later. The very next thing Luke records is how some people were using their ears to listen to Jesus. Tax collectors (essentially private contractors working for the Roman government) and known sinners often came and listened to Jesus’ teaching with open minds and open hearts (rather than the hostile suspicion of the religious leaders). The religious leaders were as offended by the unsavory crowd Jesus was attracting and engaging with as they were with his harsh prophetic words directed at them.

Chapter 15 gives us three stories about lost things as a response to how scandalized the religious leaders were by the company Jesus was keeping: the lost sheep and lost coin for today, and the lost son tomorrow. These two stories are very straightforward. The first is borrowed from Matthew (with nice narrative details added) and the second is a parallel story featuring a woman seeking (Luke often balances his stories with regard to gender, note how often a healing of one gender is following by a healing of the other). The narrative details are worth paying attention to: how the shepherd puts the sheep on his shoulders (I do this quite often with my younger children), how the woman sweeps the house and lights a lamp (just what we would if we were looking for a misplaced paycheck). In just a few words, Luke helps us identify with these characters. We sense the shepherd’s affection for the sheep and the woman’s eagerness to find her coin. 

Jesus liked hanging out with the sinners and teaching them because he was eager to reach them and had great affection for them. He didn’t just tolerate them in the hope that they would someday become acceptable and unoffensive. He liked them and wasn’t offended by them. He relaxed with them, enjoyed their company, and gave them the unconditional love and acceptance that is the only basis for real life change. If we are going to be Jesus’ followers, we have to be this comfortable around people who are far away from Jesus, people who don’t even yet realize they need Jesus. We have to do a lot more than tolerate them and preach at them. We have to love them and share both Jesus and our lives with them. And I don’t just mean we have to do this if we want to reach them, as if we could just choose not to reach them and still be followers of Jesus. Like we’ve talked about this year a number of times, following Jesus is an all or nothing deal. Followers of Jesus care about people and are happy to be with them. To eat with them. Watch a ballgame with them. Drink a beer with them. Be friends with them. Christians who aren’t ready to do this have not yet become followers of Jesus.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.