The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were whispering among themselves. They said, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them a story. He said, ‘Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Won’t he leave the 99 in the open country? Won’t he go and look for the one lost sheep until he finds it? When he finds it, he will joyfully put it on his shoulders and go home. Then he will call his friends and neighbours together. He will say, “Be joyful with me. I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you, it will be the same in heaven. There will be great joy when one sinner turns away from sin. Yes, there will be more joy than for 99 godly people who do not need to turn away from their sins.‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the house? Won’t she search carefully until she finds the coin? And when she finds it, she will call her friends and neighbours together. She will say, “Be joyful with me. I have found my lost coin.” I tell you, it is the same in heaven. There is joy in heaven over one sinner who turns away from sin.’
“The tax collectors and sinners were all gatherings around to hear Jesus.“ (cf. Verse 1)
The demands that Jesus had made on his followers on his way to Jerusalem (cf. e.g. the Gospel of last Sunday) probably deterred many. But in v. 1 it now says that all - in Greek "pantes" (παντεσ) - tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus to hear him. Of all things, these people, who had sunk low in Jewish society, come to him because they find real love and real holiness with him and not just hypocrisy, as with the Pharisees. And to these lawless ones, as the Pharisees called the tax collectors and sinners, Jesus now opens the door to the Kingdom of God, which they had closed themselves through their own guilt. For they were real sinners.
Those, then, who are in need of grace and who are also aware of it, are touched by Jesus and attracted to him. But those who feel righteous, like the Pharisees, are repelled by all that Jesus demands of them in following the disciple. Unlike the tax collectors and sinners, these followers, including the Pharisees and scribes, always want to see signs: "They asked him, 'Master, when will this happen, and by what sign will it be known that it is beginning?'" (Lk 21,7 and Mk 13,4) And although Jesus has already done so many signs, these signs do not lead to faith.
But the tax collectors and sinners do not ask for signs, they have come to hear him. So this is finally an audience that Jesus has been seeking for a long time. We hear again and again in the other Gospel texts how people come to be healed or delivered by Jesus, but only a few are really interested in his teaching. Now people come who want to hear him, who are aware of their sins and seek redemption and forgiveness. In Jesus, they meet someone who speaks precisely of this and offers them a way of reconciliation. This wanting to hear is the beginning of faith. Faith comes from hearing. But the prerequisite for really wanting to hear is self-knowledge. We must ask ourselves: What do I want to hear from Jesus? I want to hear that my own shortcomings and my sins are forgiven. And that is precisely Jesus' main proclamation: reconciliation with the Father and the forgiveness of sins. That is what he died for.
“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were whispering among themselves. They said, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (cf. Verse 2)
The self-righteous Pharisees and scribes grumble, especially because Jesus even eats with sinners. To eat with someone means to have a very special intimate communion with him. Behind their displeasure are certain basic errors of the Pharisees: firstly, they imagine that they themselves have no sin and are therefore naturally not sinners; secondly, they are of the opinion that sinners are only the capital criminals; thirdly, they condemn sweepingly whole classes of people such as tax collectors and similar people and exclude them without looking at the individual as he lives with his conscience; and fourthly, they conclude that Jesus must also be a sinner if he has fellowship with these sinners. This is the view of the Pharisees. That is why they are angry and indignant. And they express it very contemptuously: The Greek says, ουτοσ: "This one associates with sinners", so that is really very derogatory. Actually, the Pharisees should have already known from the prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament that Jesus is really "this one", namely Christ; that it is this one who invites sinners, as Isaiah predicted long ago. Jesus shows: that God's grace seeks the sinner, not the righteous who only imagines himself as righteous.
“Then Jesus told them a story. He said, ‘Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Won’t he leave the 99 in the open country? Won’t he go and look for the one lost sheep until he finds it? When he finds it, he will joyfully put it on his shoulders and go home. Then he will call his friends and neighbors together. He will say, “Be joyful with me. I have found my lost sheep.“ (cf. Vers 3-6)
Then Jesus tells them a parable: that of the hundred sheep, one of which is lost. The shepherd leaves the 99 in the desert and goes after the lost one. The 99 are all together and thus have certain protection, but the one is absolutely lost. It is probably lying in the thorns and cannot get out.
Jesus says: It is worth the effort to seek the lost sheep. To go after every single lost sinner is worth it. For that one lost sheep, Jesus leaves behind the 99. It is worthwhile to go after that one. We need to keep this in mind so that we too are ready to go after each and every one of those who are lost. At the same time, Jesus is clearly expressing a rejection of the safe and righteous who think they do not need conversion: "The one sheep that is lost knows that it is lost and can be found. But the 99 have no need of conversion, or at least imagine that they have no need of it, like the Pharisees and the scribes. Those who are sure of their salvation and feel so righteous and really believe they do not need conversion - that is exactly what this parable is meant for.
Jesus rejoices over a conversion. He does not grumble about those who return. We too have to ask ourselves: How do I react when someone around me returns? How do I react when, for example, I come to a church service and there is someone sitting next to me or near me who I "know" is a bit strange and goes a strange way? Perhaps there is a particular occasion: Christmas or Easter, perhaps a wedding or a funeral, for his coming. Can I rejoice that he is there at all? Can I ask Jesus in this service: Touch his heart? Can I rejoice or do I grumble: What is he doing? Let us check our own attitude: Am I a Pharisee and scribe who grumbles and condemns and feels righteous towards the other? How quickly we fall into such an attitude.
But Jesus does not grumble. He speaks of God's searching love that does not shy away from closeness. The lost sheep is, as I said, the most helpless. Perhaps it hangs somewhere in the thorns and cannot get out itself. It cannot find its way back on its own. Nor can it defend itself if a wolf or other wild animal comes. It is completely at the shepherd's mercy and totally dependent on him. The shepherd, however, is aware of this hardship and carries the recovered sheep home full of joy. He calls all his friends together to rejoice with him over the lost sheep.
“I tell you, it will be the same in heaven. There will be great joy when one sinner turns away from sin. Yes, there will be more joy than for 99 godly people who do not need to turn away from their sins.‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the house? Won’t she search carefully until she finds the coin? And when she finds it, she will call her friends and neighbours together. She will say, “Be joyful with me. I have found my lost coin.” I tell you, it is the same in heaven. There is joy in heaven over one sinner who turns away from sin.’” (cf. Verse 7-10)
And so Jesus wants to do the same with us. He invites us to rejoice with him and not to grumble. Just like the woman who has lost the drachma and finds it again: It's only a small coin, but it's worth a lot to the poor woman and she calls out all together, "Rejoice with me." So Jesus also calls us today: Rejoice with me when one of your congregation converts, when one who has gone a very dark and evil way suddenly finds his way back, when you suddenly see him again in the service and realise: he is serious. Rejoice with me and do not grumble: What is he doing? Now he acts so pious. He used to do so many things. We know him. No - do not grumble, but rejoice with me. For there will be greater joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 so-called righteous people who only think they are righteous.
Both parables express the same thing. So we too are invited by this Gospel to rejoice with Christ over everyone who repents, especially over those whom we have experienced on their wrong path and where we may now experience and see that they are going a new way or at least trying to do so. Let us seriously examine ourselves: Do we rejoice with them or grumble? ∎