During the time of Jesus, publicans or tax collectors were servants of the Roman government who collected taxes from the people. Sometimes, the tax collectors used extortion and extracted excess taxes to enrich themselves. They were regarded as traitors and apostates because they had frequent interaction with the gentile Romans and were tools of their oppression. They were categorized along with other sinners such as adulterers, liars, and thieves. Speaking of Jesus, in Luke 15:1-2 “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’” In response to these religious leaders, Jesus gave three parables.
The first parable is of the hundred sheep. Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” The message is clear: there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
The second parable is of the lost coin. Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Again, the message is clear: there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
The third parable is of the lost son. Luke 15:11-32 “Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'”
This parable shows us the great love and mercy of our heavenly Father. It should encourage any who have given themselves to sin that the Father will welcome them back if they have a humble, penitent heart. But I believe that the main message of this last parable is that there should be great joy among us when a sinner repents and comes back to the Father. The religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees, were self-righteous. As a result, they distanced themselves from the tax collectors and sinners. They put little or no effort into encouraging them to repent. That was not the attitude of Jesus. Luke 5:31-32 “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’” The religious leaders were like the older son in the parable. They were angry that Jesus associated with the sinners and encouraged them to repent and then accepted them.
It is possible for you to associate with sinners today and to be influenced to join in their sinful practices. 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” It is also possible to be like Jesus – to associate with sinners and to cause them to repent. You must decide which you can do.
My encouragement to you is to genuinely rejoice when a sinner repents. Remember that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.