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.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “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.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” –Luke 15
One day, the extra-good religious people, who thought they were better than everyone else, came to Jesus. They were upset with Jesus, because he was hanging out with, well, the wrong kind of people. Didn’t Jesus realize that he was spending time with bad people? He was having dinner with thieves and crooks and all sorts of other unsavory characters. And the extra-good religious people had gotten themselves all bent out of shape about this. Jesus needed to stop hanging out with sinners, they said.
What they didn’t understand about Jesus was that this was exactly why he had come: he had come to love and save sinners. He had come to offer mercy to people who knew they needed a Savior. He hadn’t come to make the goody-goodies feel better about themselves; he had come to rescue the people who knew they were lost.
So Jesus told these extra-good religious people three little stories. Each story had the same point: that God loves the people you don’t expect him to, way more than he should.
The first story Jesus told was about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep, but lost one. The shepherd, Jesus said, left the ninety-nine sheep to go find the lost little lamb. And when the shepherd found the lamb, he was so happy that he called together all his friends and threw a big party.
Okay, time out. Let’s think about this story for a second, because it’s kind of weird. I know that good shepherds always go to look for sheep who are missing, but the party at the end seems kind of strange. Why in the world would the shepherd throw a party just because one silly sheep had been found? No normal shepherd would do something like that. That one little lamb wasn’t worth throwing a whole party.
But that was exactly Jesus’ point. God celebrates the people you don’t expect him to. Jesus said, “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.” All of heaven erupts in a party when even one sinner comes back to God and says they’re sorry. Those super-good religious people looked down their noses at those “bad people,” but God was throwing a party every time one of those bad people came home. You might not think that one measly sinner is worth a party, but God disagrees.
The second story goes the same way, but it’s even more ridiculous: a woman who had ten silver coins lost one, and turned the whole house upside down until she found the coin. And then—get this—the woman is so excited that she calls up all her friends and throws a big party. All because she found one little coin?
Come on, that’s just weird. If I lost a dollar and then found it again, I would probably be pretty happy. But I definitely wouldn’t throw a party. Because after all, it’s only a dollar. The party probably cost more than the coin was worth.
But once again, that was exactly Jesus’ point. The people we don’t think are valuable are the ones God prizes the most. God is like that woman throwing a party because she found her lost coin, and the shepherd throwing a party because he found his lost sheep. He loves sinners so much more than even makes sense, and throws a party every time one of them repents.
The third story, again, tells the same lesson. Jesus tells about a son who came to his dad and basically said, “Dad, I wish you were dead so I could have all your money now.” And then he takes his dad’s money, runs away from home, and blows all the money on dumb stuff (what a jerk, right?). When he finally gets up the nerve to come home, he expects his dad to slam the door in his face, or maybe—just maybe—his dad would let him come home and be a servant.
But instead, the most surprising thing happens: when the son was still a long way off, his dad sees him coming and runs to him and sweeps him up in a big hug. And his dad throws a huge party to welcome his son home—the same son who had wanted him dead, stolen his money, and lost it all. Would you throw a party for someone who had treated you like that? This dad did.
The point of Jesus three stories is this: That’s exactly what God is like. He loves the people that you think are too bad to love. He loves you, even when you do bad things and break his heart. He loves you so much more than even makes sense. And when you come back to him and say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness, all of heaven erupts in a party. That’s how much God loves forgiving sinners. That’s how much God loves you.