In Luke 15:1-10, Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, one after the other, with three common actions – searching, finding, and rejoicing – and a common message: there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. We’ve heard it preached before and we know the point of the parables: we are the lost sheep and the lost coin.
Jesus was aware of the Pharisees watching Him that day, circling in like lions to their prey, glaring at Him with accusing eyes. They were focused on the character of the sinner; Jesus, on the other hand, was focused on God’s character. The sheep was lost through no fault of its own. The coin was an inanimate object, how could it have sinned? In His wisdom, Jesus follows these two parables with the parable of a flesh and blood person, the prodigal son, just as lost as the sheep and the coin. Jesus saw the value of the sinner, something His critics would never understand.
The Pharisees understood the value of a sheep or a coin. What they could not understand, though, was the value of a sinner. They continued to listen, hoping to find fault with Him, and it wasn’t difficult for them to find it – why would Jesus tell these sinful people that they have a value to God? Just as the shepherd and the woman in the parables were overjoyed to find what they had lost, so too was Jesus happy to sit with them, and the judgmental Pharisees took note.
These parables parallel something that is currently in the news. No doubt you’ve heard that President Joe Bidon announced his plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of Americans. Predictably, social media has exploded with posts from people who have already paid off their loans and resent that their student debt wasn’t forgiven. In response, others are posting memes that say, “Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to find one seems illogical, irrational, and senseless… until that one is you.”
Throughout human history and right into the present day, mankind is lost, including each of us at some point in our lives. We have all strayed away from God’s herd and Jesus has done those same three things for us: searching, finding, and rejoicing. How wonderful to realize that we matter so much to Jesus that He will search for us, find us, and rejoice over us with the angels of God. Over us!
In first-century Jewish culture, to eat with someone implied complete acceptance. Jesus ate with the sinners, violating the social norms of the day by aligning himself with them and making God accessible to them. By His doing so, their lives were transformed!
Student debt cannot be erased by bankruptcy, nor can it be eliminated by selling the object that incurred the debt, as a mortgage or car loan. Still it is possible – albeit difficult— to repay. The debt of sin is much larger. It lasts for all eternity and there is no way we could ever pay it on our own. Jesus forgives even the most horrible mortal sin. On the cross He paid that debt for us – all of us – as His blood washed away our sin and wiped the slate clean.
It is an incredible gift to have $20,000 in debt forgiven, but Jesus offers us a gift that is even more valuable! The burden of sin and guilt is crushing, and it can bury us alive. It affects each and every one of us, as the Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Our sins are not merely forgiven; the gift of forgiveness is so complete that God no longer remembers our sins.
Searching, finding, and rejoicing. When we wander like the sheep in the parable, Jesus searches for us until He finds us. When He does, He restores us to the flock through the sacrament of reconciliation, releasing us from the burden of sin and debt. And there is rejoicing among the angels of God.
As Jesus hung on the cross, His last words were “It is finished.” And it was. The Greek word that means “finished” also means “paid in full.” We are set free from condemnation, burden, shame, and guilt. Our debt was paid in full, signed in His blood.Jesus welcomed the sinners that day and ate with them. Through His sacrifice – God’s ultimate plan for salvation – He also welcomes us to His table, the Eucharist.