TEXT: Luke 15:1-10
“Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
If we were to keep reading past verse 10, we would find ourselves in the midst of another famous parable—the one about the lost (or “prodigal”) son.
But consider what prompted Jesus to relate these three stories. Remember how the passage began:
… all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)
These should be familiar words to all of us who read the Bible—or even, those of us who have a passing acquaintance with the gospel story. Jesus of Nazareth never shunned the company of any person.
Yes, Jesus would teach in the synagogue. Yes, Jesus would accept dinner invitations from the wealthy and the powerful and the pious. But he would also break bread with outcasts and unsavoury people. Jesus dined with tax collectors (who extorted money on behalf of Rome). He associated with prostitutes, rough uncultured fishermen, lepers, Samaritans—and lots of others who would not be welcome in polite society. And the good, religious people—the refined, well-educated, well-meaning, church-going people—were scandalized.
“What kind of rabbi is this,” they asked, “who hangs out with the dregs of society?”
By way of answering that question, Jesus asks two questions of his own:
- “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?” and
- “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”
His point is hard to miss. If human beings can care that much about livestock or money, how much more diligently will God search for what rightfully belongs to him?
And if human beings can rejoice upon recovering a sheep or a coin, how much more will God rejoice upon recovering a blessed child?
The shepherd does not care where the lost sheep has been. The woman does not care where the lost coin was hiding. Neither does God care about where the lost soul has been. What matters to God, Jesus says, is that the wandering and wayward one has come home at last.
Jesus rejects no one. He does not shrink from the company of sinners, because—if he did—he would be completely alone!
Some years ago, a Roman Catholic priest pointed this out to me: Jesus did not evict Judas Iscariot from his place at the Last Supper.
Not until Judas had received the bread did Jesus say to him: “What you are planning to do, go and do it quickly.”
Jesus rejects no one. We are welcomed by him regardless of who we are, or what we have done. We are welcomed by him even if we are baffled by the things he says and does.
Jesus accepts us not because we are religious, or moral, or instructed, but simply because we are human. If all were welcome at that Passover table in the upper room, then certainly all ought to be welcome at the banquet table in heaven.
Some years ago, during a Confirmation class where we were talking about the Sacrament of Holy Communion, a bright teenager made one of the most amazingly astute observations I’ve ever heard. She said:
“It doesn’t matter how Christ is present in the elements on the table. What’s important is that God’s people are there. That’s where the ‘real presence’ of Christ is—it’s in the people who come to the table!”
How about you? Will you come to the table?