1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.
2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
3 So Jesus told them this story:
4 "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?
5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.
6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying,
'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.'
7 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!
First, understand that tax collectors were at the bottom of the social ladder back then.
They were collaborators with the hated Roman conquerors.
They also stole LARGE sums of money from their fellow Jews by overcharging them for their taxes to Rome.
Tax collectors were roundly hated by Jews.
The Jews considered them BIG TIME sinners.
I'm not sure what constituted a “notorious sinner” back then, but whatever it was, the Jews hated them too.
Sinners were usually subjected to a lot of hateful speech & comments from Jews.
Sometimes the Jews would throw things at sinners – food, offal, mud, or rocks.
Jews would NOT be seen with sinners.
Since eating with someone was considered an intimate social interaction, Jews CERTAINLY would NEVER be caught dead eating with a sinner.
Contact with sinners defiled the Jews & made them ineligible to go to the temple.
It IS interesting to me that even in the face of all the social ostracizing & hateful treatment with their fellow Jews, these tax collectors & notorious sinners “often came to listen to Jesus”.
It was assumed that these sinners had hardened their hearts so much toward God that such interest in the holy life would simply not exist in their hearts.
And yet, Luke says they come often.
When Jesus finds out what the Pharisees are thinking & saying, He tells a parable that basically says there is more virtue on going to rescue these sinners from their sinful lives than taking care of these prissy & precious “holy people”.
That must of burned the Pharisees holier-than-thou egos just a little bit!
You know where I'm going with this...
In our day & time, how many “notorious sinners” in our culture like to be around us?
If we claim to be followers of Jesus, & say we are trying to live like Him, then wouldn't it follow that the very kinds of people Jesus came to seek out would be drawn to us?
But are we known by the people who are around us as such a person of Christ-like personna that they often take the time to connect with us?
Or do they look at us much in the way the notorious sinners back then looked upon the Pharisees – hateful, harsh, judgmental, unloving, crabby, arrogant & holier-than-thou?
We both know the answer to those questions – people who don't believe in nor follow Jesus today think the latter, not the former.
And how do we change that?
I would say we need to begin by remembering that we haven't always been so uber-righteous that we pee holy water.
Maybe we should also remember that if someone hadn't come looking for us when we were as lost as a pig in high grass, we'd still be going slam to hell.
Also, perhaps we should recall that Jesus said in more than one instance in the Gospels – the accounts of His life in the new Testament – that our task was to “love God & love others”.
And that some of those “others” are “notorious sinners”.
Sometimes, I'd rather hang with “notorious sinners”...
they are many times a lot more real than prissy self-indulgent white middle class evangelicals
who are trying to pass as uber-holy
while still being as sinful & self-centered as the very people they are too good to hang with.
Enough of this sweet talk...
Let's be more like Jesus.
If we are, those “notorious sinners” in our world & culture will find us.
And maybe as a result, they will begin to believe in & follow the Jesus we claim to be so hooked up with.