Luke 15:1-7 (NIV): Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 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. Does he not 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.
Jesus hung out with sinners, the “lost sheep,” way more than the “good people” of his day were comfortable with. And He did it on purpose. The Pharisees understood that it was sometimes necessary to have contact with the “unholy masses” during the course of a day. That was the main reason that they thoroughly washed before eating, and before any sacred duty: to wash the contamination from their bodies, symbolic of washing it away from their souls.
These Pharisees and teachers of the law could not understand why Jesus would associate with such “contaminants” on purpose. Didn’t He understand that being that close to such sinners could allow their spiritual uncleanness to rub off on Him, fouling His own spirit? Didn’t He know that one bad apple would spoil a whole barrelful?
But Jesus knew the way things were far better than them! He understood that soap is never contaminated by making something clean. That point was clearly demonstrated by Him when He touched (!) a leper. He didn’t catch the disease; instead the leper was instantly made clean. (Matthew 8:1-4) Jesus cast out demons without ever being affected by them. He even touched the dead (Luke 7:11-15) without being defiled, but giving life instead.
But Jesus was with those sinners, not just because He could be; He was with them on purpose, because He had a mission. He had come “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10), and these were the lost. He did not come and hang out with the holy people and hope that the lost would seek Him out. He came to seek them out, even though it meant leaving the temples and synagogues where the righteous gathered, leaving the righteous sheep on their own, and going into the wilds, the streets and houses where those lived who would never darken the door of a church. Even thought it meant eating in the houses of tax collectors (Luke 5:27-32; 19:1-10), He did whatever He had to do to go to the people who needed Him the most: not just the tax collectors, but the prostitutes, the scoundrels, the immoral, the sin-sick and the body-wasted. And they received Him gladly, not just for the miracles that they received, but because of the words of life that He brought to them.
Some have said that if Jesus were on the earth today, He wouldn’t spend His time in churches and hanging out with the saints. Instead, he would still be found among the sinners and castoffs, those who needed Him the most and knew that they deserved Him the least; still seeking and saving what was lost. And that is true as far as it goes. The fact is, Jesus is here on earth today, living in the hearts of His people, and longing to work through them to go to those same lost and sinful people. To touch them with His cleansing and healing power. To bring life back into their dead souls. To give them real life today, and eternal life forever. But for Him to do all of that, we, like Him, must be willing to leave the comfort of our churches and homes, and the familiarity of our Christian friends and associates, and go where He longs to be, to do what He died to accomplish – seeking and saving what was lost.
Father, how easy it is to forget that Jesus’ mission was not to the righteous, but to the sinners. I know fully that You did not come to me when I had my act together, but when I was so lost in sin that I could not even look up. I was a lost sheep, and You truly went out into the wilderness to seek me and save me. And now You wish to continue to do that work of seeking and saving through me! What an amazing honor! Help me, Lord, to be willing to move out of my comfort zone into the world that is so dark, and that needs You so badly. Help me to serve You by shining the light of Your love and Your truth into the dark lives all around me, so that I can be an active participant in YOUR mission. Amen.