Trinity 3, 2016
The Epistle. 1 Peter 5:5b-11
The Gospel. St. Luke 15:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
As we have been thinking about the New Birth Jesus tells Nicodemus about; kicking off a significant theme of the Church’s Trinity Season, we come this week to another group of Parables Jesus taught.
The lesson opens today and the scene is set this way. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. [to Jesus] And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
And they are exactly right, and we are the happier that He did.
The Pharisees were separatists. They taught separation even for salvation. One must be a Jew in order to be right with God.
This problem even continued in the Church long after Jesus died. Paul writes at length to certain congregations about being on guard against the Judaizers.
The Judiazers are called this because they wanted to Judiaze people.
They wanted the men converts to Christianity to submit to Jewish customs first, before they submitted to Christ.
Or at least for them, submission to Christ included following Jewish customs.
Jesus comes along and shows that this is not the case. He not only teaches inclusion without having to submit to the Mosaic Law of Circumcision, but shows and demonstrates it in His actions as well.
He demonstrates that the Mosaic Law, the customs of clean and unclean foods and other rituals and traditions were done away with…or reinterpreted through the lens of knowing and following Jesus.
He sits with people…and eats with people who were simply unclean in Jewish eyes.
Tax Collectors were sinners.
They were traitors to the Jewish people. Prostitutes also were in the audience of Jesus at times and of course Jewish religious leaders despised them as well.
And most likely despised by many Gentiles too…except to those who took advantage of their services.
This inclusion that Jesus taught was found last week in our lesson where He taught that salvation has now gone out to both Jew and Gentile.
We heard from Paul too, who explained at length how Jewish branches were cut off and Gentile wild shoots were grafted in.
Everyone who puts their trust in Jesus Christ, finds salvation. Ethnicity has no bearing on who gets in.
This is also Luke’s theme as well in writing the entire Gospel and including such Parables of Jesus as the ones we heard today. Luke is thought to have been a Gentle convert to Christianity himself and so his emphasis in his writing will be tipped toward a Gentile audience and Gentile inclusion over and against Jewish isolationism…or separatism.
So, Tax Collectors and sinners, prostitutes as well as those who even had physical impediments were all in one way or another despised by the Jewish Pharisees and scribes.
So in light of this observation by Jesus of who is drawing near to hear the words of eternal life and on the other hand those who were at a distance, plotting how they might destroy Him, He offers a Parable to set them on a better course.
To show them a more excellent way. To show them that this was exactly how and who God calls to enter into His Kingdom.
They are disturbed by the fact that He is not despising those who are unclean and sinners and unfit to be considered by God. That He is associating with them.
Jesus is there to cut through all of that.
Jesus knows this and tells them in a Parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4 ESV)
Who is who here?
The lost sheep are those God seeks out.
The 99 are those who are tended by the Shepherd, (God) and who are not in danger….are not at risk…are near their shepherd…
Jesus is seeking lost people and the Pharisees and Scribes don't approve. At one point in a similar situation where Jesus is teaching and different types such as today are gathered around….He says to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
We have two groups here today. The publicans and sinners…tax collectors and sinners and we have the Pharisees and Scribes.
But it would seem that we don't need to overanalyze this parable to get the basic understanding.
Jesus is the Shepherd (or even God is the Shepherd) who seeks the lost. God is seeking the lost through His Son, who brings them back to the Father through faith in Him.
This is a message of evangelism to the Church. God is seeking those who are lost. All of us are lost at some point in our lives.
But God sought us out, found us, turned us to Himself and Has through faith in His Son, baptism, repentance, the teaching of the Scriptures and receiving of the sacraments…has brought us into His Church, and by many of these same means keeps us in.
God continually works to call to Himself His people and save them. He works night and day to continually find lost sheep….lost people, bring them into His Heavenly Sheep Pen and then go out again and again to find more.
In like manner we find in the Scriptures this portrayed in more detail by the life, work and death of Jesus Christ.
Jesus seeking those who are his…the elect and showing the great love he has by seeking them out and finding them and bringing them home.
Even if it is just one at a time. He seeks out and finds…demonstrating the extent of His love and determination to find His people.
This is to contrast the lack of love the so-called religious of His day showed. They lacked the very thing that Jesus is bringing to the world. Care for the lost.
Jesus was lumped in with other so-called sinners because he ate with them, touched them, listened to them, and healed them.
The callousness of the Pharisees and Scribes was exposed by this Parable because they were those who should have been doing great acts of mercy to those in need and instead they were so caught up in their own perfection they neglected, as they say, the weightier matters.
We find this exact thing said by Jesus in another place. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23 ESV)
Scribes and Pharisees were scrupulous about tithing. They took the letter of the Law to its very limits and beyond.
But in doing so, they neglected the more important thing right in front of them. Their neighbor.
Jesus commends them in this last quote for their attention to detail, but at the same time, there is a greater thing here, which Jesus condemns, and that is detail is not at all paid to those whom they were set over to love, nurture and protect…the weaker among them.
Jesus led the way by example. To seek us out who were lost in trespasses and sins…wandering in desert places…in the wasteland of “lostness” and “lonliness” and emptiness, He came down from Heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Ghost, was made man.
He was crucified for us. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again from the dead. He then ascended into Heaven.
This is another part of what Jesus was telling Nicodemus in the garden that night. The New Birth one must undergo involves understanding that at one time, we are all lost sheep.
Each going his own way. But God, who in His great mercy and love, went after us…to find us and the gather us to Himself once again.
At the end of this Parable today….or both of them, Jesus says, “…I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And, “…I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The 99 who need no repentance here is a reference to, again, the religious leaders and anyone who falls into this category of not caring, not loving, self-righteousness.
It is a sarcastic comment just in case you didn't notice. There are no 99 or even 1 who does not need to repent. All need to repent. None are sinless.
All men born, are born sinful and are in need of saving.
Jesus, by saying “the 99 who need no repentance” resembles His comment somewhere else where he says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32 ESV)
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(Mark 2:17 ESV)
But what is important to see here is that there is great joy in heaven. God finds great joy in saving lost sinners.
The angels in heaven also seem to find great joy in what God does in saving men.
Christ, though called in Scripture the man of sorrows, still ultimately, even through the pain of suffering and death, ultimately found great joy in His mission of coming to seek out and save the lost.
This was His message to His audience that day. Their salvation sat before them. Their Shepherd sat before them, teaching them about Himself.
And yet because of their hardness of heart and determination not to listen, they were not hearing Him at all.
Well, they heard, but they did not perceive how these things could be. They understood His claims, but rejected Him. Love had not yet….and in many cases never did penetrate their callous hearts.
We who hear this Parable today should find ourselves in this as one of the lost who have been found.
As God’s chosen people, Born of God, we are sheep, once lost but now found.
Christ’s ultimate joy was in doing the will of the Father. If we have been lost and now found, should we not also live in light of this joy?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.