Prepare to listen. Read God’s Word with the attitude of a beginner and learner. Hear God’s word to you: I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8)
Read Luke 15:1-7
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ 3So he told them this parable: 4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.’
As he often did, Jesus again tells a story in response to criticism by the ‘grumbling’ Pharisees: ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ ‘Sinners’ weren’t necessarily bad people who should be locked up. They just weren’t like the Pharisees; didn’t believe or behave according to the same standards. We daren’t judge the Pharisees because we too struggle to welcome the ‘other’, be they the despised, the poor, the alien, a perceived enemy. To those of us who struggle to accept people so unlike us, Jesus told a story, in fact he told three, beginning with this one about the lost sheep. The punch line of the story (for once Jesus states it) is in verse seven: ‘Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.’ It’s a dig at those grumbling scribes and Pharisees who considered themselves to be righteous in God’s eyes and confidently pointed the finger at ‘sinners’, those unlike them. They saw no need to repent because they’d committed no sin. Jesus shocked them, maintaining that the God they claimed to worship goes wildly happy over one, just one sinner who repents. Do you get it?
Can you too rejoice over the ‘sinner’, the alien, the unloved who repents and joins Jesus in fellowship?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, forgive me for an attitude and behavior that sidelines, ignores and sometimes demonizes the poor, the alien, the ‘sinner.’ Help me live as one of your followers by welcoming and embracing those you welcome and embrace.
Go and live obediently in the world, following a God who rejoices over one sinner who repents.
Reading the Bible has always been essential to followers of Jesus. I've been reading, studying, teaching and writing reflections on biblical texts for as long as I can remember. I invite you to read the Bible with me during the Lent and into Easter Sunday.