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!
Sinner: one who has strayed away, one who is not righteous. The commonly held belief here is needing to get cleaned up and ‘righteous’ prior to coming to the Lord. Jesus often pointed out the misconception that the perceived ‘righteous’ were in need of cleansing as well. Today we still hear the statements like this; when I quit…. (fill in the blank) or when I have more time, or when I’m older. All of these imply a need to ‘clean up’ before beginning a relationship with the Lord. These do not lack in knowledge of the Word, they suffer from ‘lostness’ brought on by misconceptions, poor teaching, skewed perceptions, or more. This one who is found was already part of the flock. The Pharisee and many of us like the Pharisee, was unwilling to associate with the ‘sinner’ because they weren’t ‘clean.’
This is the image of exclusivity the world often places upon Christian groups. Are we guilty of the same distaste the Pharisees are exhibiting? Are we willing to reach out and ‘touch’ someone perceived as ‘unclean’ with the Word of God, or do we stay within the comfort of our common groups of believers?
How do we treat the lost among us?