Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (Luke 15:1-10 NLT)
Jesus did not worry about what the neighbors thought. Instead, he simply did what was best for them. Reaching out to the sinners of the world was what was best for those sinners—and it was also best for those nosey neighbors who always criticized him for doing the loving thing instead of the correct thing.
In Jesus’ day, most of the Jewish people were farmers, raisers of sheep or cattle, or fishers. The parables he told, the word pictures he painted, were designed to make sense to such an audience. So he used the way shepherds cared about their lost sheep to illustrate how much God cared about lost people.
The word “Pharisee” means “separated ones.” They believed in separating themselves from sinners, because they thought God hated sinners. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand that rather than hating sinners, God loved them and he compared them to lost precious things, hoping to get them to understand how precious every human being was.
It gives us insight into the character of Jesus to note that he made sinners comfortable and enraged the righteous. How many sinners feel comfortable hanging out with most Christians? Perhaps we’re not as much like Jesus as we like to imagine.