Summary: Jesus welcomed those who others rejected. The Pharisees and scribes pushed them away. The crowd just watched. Who will we be like?
As Jesus and his disciples travelled, Jesus has been teaching [picture on slide]. He and his disciples have been healing and casting out demons. They’ve been drawing large crowds.
In Luke 12 we read that ‘so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another.’ Towards the end of Luke 14, Luke tells us, ‘Now great crowds accompanied him.’ Our passage for today starts shortly after that. So we can imagine that this story happens in the context of a crowd [second picture on slide]. Luke tells us, at the beginning of chapter 15, ‘Now the TAX COLLECTORS and SINNERS were all drawing near to hear him’ [third picture on slide]. In the next verse we read, ‘And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled’ [fourth picture on slide - completes the cast for this story].
Why would they have grumbled?
You or I would probably not be particularly upset if we found that someone worked for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. But the Pharisees and the scribes didn’t like tax collectors at all.
Rome had seized control of Judea in about 61 BC and sometime after that, they started to impose taxes.
When I was preparing this talk, I came across a comment that the Roman system of taxation followed the principle of ‘get as much as you can as easily as you can.’ I don’t know how tax collectors in Jesus’ day operated, but the Bible is perfectly familiar with bribery so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mixture of extortion and bribery going on when taxes were collected, and that didn’t make it any more fun.
This situation would not have pleased the Pharisees and the scribes. I’m sure they didn’t like paying taxes at the best of times, but they would not have liked paying taxes to the Romans one little bit. And if the process of paying taxes was anything like I imagine, then they wouldn’t have liked that either. So, they would not have looked at all favourably on the Jews who collected taxes on behalf of the Romans.
Jesus, on the other hand, welcomed such people. I’m not surprised the Pharisees and scribes grumbled!
I take it as a given that Jesus was right to welcome such people but the Pharisees and scribes thought he was wrong. Let’s just take note of this. If some people were not happy with what Jesus did then some of people will not be happy with us if we act like Jesus. Let’s not be too surprised when that happens!
In verse 3, Luke tells us, ‘SO he told them this parable.’ Jesus was aware of the criticism – and responded to it! Let’s take note of this too. If we follow Jesus’ example, then if we realise that people are criticising us, we should make an effort to answer the criticism.
Jesus answers the criticism by telling three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost son. We’re only going to look at the first parable today.
In this parable Jesus tells a story about a man with 100 sheep. People had been keeping sheep in the Middle East from the time of Abel so the crowd that Jesus was talking to would have understood Jesus’ parable very easily. The commentators say it would have been quite normal for a shepherd in those days to have a flock of 100 sheep.
In Jesus’ story, the shepherd somehow realises that one sheep is missing. I don’t know how he realises it. Maybe he counted his sheep every day.
But I have another idea. Maybe the shepherd knew each sheep individually. I imagine that because of another story Jesus told about a shepherd. It’s in John 10. Jesus starts like this:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and HE CALLS HIS OWN SHEEP BY NAME AND LEADS THEM OUT. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
In this parable, the shepherd had given his sheep names. The good shepherd in this parable knows his sheep individually – to the extent that he gives them names. I dipped into a book titled ‘Small Scale Sheep Keeping’ that was published about five years ago. It said that sheep can recognize a shepherd’s voice, and they can even learn to recognize their own names!