Luke 15 is a serious contender for the title of my Favorite Chapter in the Bible. It begins with this verse, “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.’”
Jesus responds to their complaint by telling a parable — a parable with three parts. The first part is about a lost sheep. Jesus says,
“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? 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.”
Pharisees think the kingdom is about the 99. Jesus tells them it’s about the one.
As modern Pharisees, we’re often more concerned with preserving our community than transforming the other. We’re more concerned about making sure our 99 are safe and secure, when we should be far more concerned about finding that lost one.
The mission of Jesus transforms a desire for security into reckless pursuit of the lost. Which is why, in the last part of the parable, often called the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus pictures the father running toward the son — an image the Pharisees would have found indecent, given cultural standards.
He didn’t wait for the son to offer his apology, the father went after him, offering forgiveness before he even had a chance.
Imagine a community of Christians offering forgiveness and reconciliation, running after the non-believer, not even giving them a chance. Imagine a community of Christians more concerned about the well-being of the outsider than they are about their own.
That’s the kind of love that brings the sheep home, that changes the prodigal heart. And that’s the kind of love God rewards with a party — the fitting ending Jesus gives to every part of that chapter, and the fitting end that will come when we follow his example.