Finding the Lost
I find it fascinating that the Son of God, the Son of Man, Jesus our Messiah taught primarily by story. The beautiful prose and teachings of the Beatitudes, are wrapped around earthy, pithy stories that landed the truths he wanted to convey. They were illustrations of divine lessons he wanted us to know.
There are 40 recorded stories (also known as parables) that Jesus told, 15 of which are unique to the book of Luke. In that book we find the most well-known parable which has been called “the crown and pearl of all parables” by one commentator, “the Gospel within the Gospel” by George Murray, and Charles Dickens called it “the finest short story ever written”. We know it as the Prodigal Son.
In this story we see the mission of God in the person of Jesus, we find what brings God joy, we see what repentance looks like, and see the lost found. The setting of the telling of the story is key to understanding the meaning of this parable.
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem in the last year of his ministry. The cross looms. From town to town he is engaging people, healing, teaching, and equipping his disciples for what is to come. In every crowd are the religious leaders of Israel watching Jesus, listening, and trying to find ways to discredit him. The priestly heritage of God’s people are struggling to understand His mission. In fact, they are willfully resisting Him because he was challenging their traditions. Nothing is more hard-hearted than religious people trusting in traditions they think are from God.
So they observe, again, that Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and other notorious sinners.
Tax collectors were Jewish people who worked for the occupying government of Rome and collected taxes from their fellow countrymen. They often overcharged the people and pocketed the extra (see the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19). Even one of Jesus’ disciples had been a tax collector. They were hated and despised by the leadership and by the people, but both Matthew and Zacchaeus held banquets in their homes for Jesus.
Other sinners that Jesus associated with were the notorious, publicly known sinners, including robbers, adulterers, prostitutes. These were the marginalized, the outcast, the people outside the mainstream of Jewish life and society. They were listening to his teaching, conversing with him and even eating with him. Dipping a hand in the same dish with sinners reflected acceptance in the minds of the religious leaders.
So these religious leaders began to “mutter”, to complain, reminding the readers of the record from the Old Testament when the Israelites grumbled about their state during the Exodus. Luke is using this highly negative word to describe the great displeasure of the religious leaders.
“So Jesus told them this story…” to illustrate one point about God and his view of humanity and a portrayal of his mission.
In this story we see the mission of Jesus: He loves sinners. He pursues sinners. The lost are found. The angels rejoice. There is a party in heaven over every lost soul found. He stated it this way in Luke 19:10 when He was with the notorious tax collector, Zacchaeus: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
So my question to those of us who have been lost but have been found by Jesus is this: are you participating in the mission of God? Does the Great Commission drive your priorities? Are you pursuing sinners? Are you spending time with sinners? Are you full of love and compassion for all, the marginalized and powerful alike?
We need to see the world as lost, and in order to lead people to Jesus we must be among them. When other Christians criticize you for where you hang out and the people you are with, be okay with that. It happened to Jesus.
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