Luke 15:1-10 - Parables of Rejoicing
15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, 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. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Tax Collectors and Sinners: Tax collectors were agents or contract workers who collected taxes for the Roman government. They collected several different kinds of taxes depending on the kind of rule in the particular Jewish province. There were land taxes, poll taxes, import taxes and taxes for the operation of the Temple. It was not uncommon for a Jew to pay 30-40% of his or her income in taxes and religious dues. Tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews. They were the only ones who knew the exact tax rates so they often overcharged and pocketed the excess. They were also hated because they were viewed as mercenaries working for the Roman government. Sinners referred to those who had somehow broken the moral law as well as to those who did not maintain the laws of ritual purification.
Pharisees and scribes: These were the two most influential groups in the Jewish religious hierarchy. The Pharisees were sticklers for the law. They believed that the only way to please God was to live a righteous life according to the letter of the law. Many of the scribes were Pharisees. Their job was to copy and render opinions on the law itself. They were professional interpreters of the law.
Shepherds: In the Old Testament the profession of shepherd was a noble one. David was a shepherd. Moses was a shepherd. By the time of Jesus life, however, the occupation of shepherd had fallen into disrespect. They were largely considered shiftless, thieving scoundrels who were as likely to run off with your sheep as keep them. The rabbis listed shepherds among the despised trades along with camel drivers, sailors, gamblers with dice, dyers, and tax collectors. It would have been doubly offensive to the Pharisees for Jesus to use a parable with the God figure as a shepherd.
The Main Point: Jesus is aiming this teaching at the Pharisees and scribes. They believed that to associate with a sinner was to condone sin and to undermine the moral fiber of the community. Sinners were to be ostracized and shunned into repentance. Jesus believed that sinners were to be loved, searched out and accepted into repentance. These are two very different approaches to life. Jesus’ question to the Pharisees is “Will you be able to join God and the angels in celebrating the restoration of the lost or will your repugnance at the sin keep you from the party?”
Vs. 1 – The setting of this passage is a large public teaching. The crowd includes sinners who are seeking answers, disciples, and the religious hierarchy.
Vs. 2 – grumbling – This is a special word. It was used to describe Israel’s attitude toward Moses in the wilderness (Ex. 16:7-12). It is that undercurrent of restlessness that looks for fault, someone to blame and a way to destroy.
Eats with them – Table fellowship in the ancient world was extremely important! To eat with someone was a sign of full acceptance. It was to welcome as family.
Vs. 4 – sheep – sheep were very valuable in the ancient world.
In the wilderness – There is an old gospel hymn about this text that says that the 99 were left behind safely in the fold. That is not what the text says. The point is that the shepherd’s love for the individual is so great that he will risk everything for it.
Lost – in Matthew’s version of the story the sheep has strayed and the implication is that it left of its own free will. In Luke however, the sheep is just lost and it is not at fault for being lost. It simply does not know how to save itself.
Vs. 5 – on his shoulders – This is an image of great tenderness. The lost sheep is not simply led home. It is carried on the shoulders of the shepherd.
Rejoices – the Shepherd’s love is such that he begins his rejoicing even while he is alone in the wilderness with the sheep.
Vs. 6 – This verse is not a part of the parable. This is Jesus comment to the Pharisees about the parable. The same is true of verse 10.
Joy – Joy is the hallmark of faithful life. It is God’s response to repentance.
Righteous – Jesus’ point is not that the righteous are unimportant or that righteousness is unimportant. His point is that all must come to God through repentance. It is impossible to be righteous enough to make God rejoice. And we don’t have to be!
Vs. 8 – ten silver coins – each of these coins was probably a drachma (equal to one day’s wage). This was probably not a wealthy woman. The ten coins were probably her dowry. Many women wore their 10 coin dowry as a necklace. To lose a coin would be roughly analogous to losing an engagement ring today.
House – This was probably a small dirt floor house with a small door and no window.
Vs. 9 – friends – these were her female friends.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. With whom do you most identify in the story? The lost thing? The one searching? The ones who are appalled at the ones Jesus accepts?
2. Have you ever caught yourself thinking that someone or some group is not worthy of God’s love and acceptance? Who are the sinners that you don’t want to associate with? Who are the sinners that it is easy to associate with?
3. What would you be willing to risk or invest in bringing someone into the fold of God?