Messiah Lutheran Church
Trinity 3 (June 20, 2009)
Rev. Todd Peperkorn
I work a lot with kids, and one thing that always amazes me is how fast the organize into tribes. Do you know what I mean? It seems as though if you put a group of 30 children into a room, in about 5 minutes they will have figured out the pecking order. Who is older or younger, shorter of taller, richer or poorer, who knows the teacher or who had a run in with them. Children can sniff such things out quickly. I don’t know if it is some kind of internal radar or what.
But, of course, children aren’t the only people that like to divide and categorize. We adults do it all the time, both now and in Jesus’ day. In our text this morning tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus. There is always an odd collection of people around Jesus. The rich, the poor, the religious, prostitutes, heretics, tax collectors, priests, Pharisees, they were all in the neighborhood. But like people everywhere, they were divided into groups. And these groups don’t like speaking with one another.
You can imagine the religious of the day. If Jesus is the Messiah, surely they should get special seating, don’t you think? I mean, they had paid their dues, done their tithes, and it was clear to everyone that they deserved to sit at the right hand of God.
But these Pharisees and scribes don’t get special treatment with our Lord. So they begin to grumble. This man receives sinners and eats with them, they say.
Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but it most certainly was a big deal in Jesus’ time. Hospitality is considered one of the cardinal virtues in the Middle East, even to this day. All the way back to Abraham and the three visitors (Genesis 18), we find that hospitality is considered a mark of godliness. If you showed hospitality to another person, if you gave of yourself, sat them down at your table and actually ate with them, that was a sign that you were on equal footing with them. It was a sign that you were reconciled, and that everything is right between you. So when the Pharisees accuse Jesus of receiving sinners and eating with them, what they are really accusing Jesus of is of soiling himself with people who are so dirty that they infect everyone around them. If they eat with Jesus and He eats with sinners, then they are going to become dirty and unclean as well.
The implication here is clear. What the Pharisees and scribes wanted was for Jesus to only be with people who had cleaned up their act. It is as if they are saying, “Look, Jesus, we know you’re the Messiah and all, and that’s fine. But you can’t go traipsing around with these lowlifes. It makes us all look bad. Tell them to clean up their act, live a good life, and THEN you can have the photo shoot with them.”
Have you ever looked around this church and felt the same way? Man, I wish these people would get their act together before they come into God’s house. Divorce, money problems, noisy kids, gossipers, lousy givers, the people in these pews around me are a mess! I wish they would get it together. They’re starting to make me look bad.
What Jesus does with the Pharisees is to force them to take a long, hard look at who God is, and who Jesus really is as the one who seeks and saves the lost. It is as if Jesus says,
You accuse me of eating with sinners. You are absolutely right. That is precisely what I do. But as a matter of fact I not only sit down and eat with sinners, I rush down the road, shower them with kisses and drag them in that I might eat with them. I hunt them down in the wilderness. I turn my house inside out in search of the smallest one. It is much worse that you imagined! (Paraphrased with thanks from Dr. Kenneth Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal, p. 62.)
So Jesus, in order to show them and us the real nature of God’s love, tells three stories or parables. He tells the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the crazy housewife, and the parable of the lost son. Each of these parables teach us something about God. Let’s look at the first one briefly to get a sense of it.
In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asks the question, “Which one of you if you had a hundred sheep, and one gets lost, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in open country and go after the one that is lost until you find it? And when you find, it you lift this 70 pound little animal up on your shoulders, sing for joy, come home and throw a party for your friends and neighbors in celebration of finding the lost lamb? That’s what happens in heaven when a sinner repents.”
So what does this little parable tell us about God and about what He thinks about you? This teaches us several things:
1. First of all, God, specifically Jesus, is the Good Shepherd. This is obvious to us in some ways today. The Lord is my Shepherd is pretty well etched into our minds. However, what Jesus teaches us here is that His being your shepherd means that He goes after you, He is invested in you, and most importantly, that He cares for you deeply.
2. In each of the parables we are lost. You are the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. God has to find you; you can’t find Him. So the shepherd goes into the wilderness, the crazy woman turns her house upside down, and the father runs out to meet his wayward son.
3. There is always a price to be paid. The price may be a trudge in the wilderness with a heavy load. The price may be throwing a part worth far more than the lost coin. Or it may be the price of loss and giving up everything for the sake of your lost child.
4. Your salvation is worth a party in heaven. Heaven rejoices over repentance, sorrow over sin, and over the forgiveness Jesus won for you on the cross. Heaven doesn’t rejoice at your attempts at self-justification. No, heaven rejoices that you were lost, wayward, squandered, but now you are found, drawn back, and paid for with the blood of the Son. That, dearly beloved, is worth a party.
So this is it, baptized. God has sought you out, found when you were lost, paid the price for you, and is now throwing a feast in your honor here, in His house, at His Table. So come, Jesus receives you. Repent and believe in the mercy of God.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.