Luke 15:1-10


Exploring the Heart of God (1)

To put the cost of discipleship in context, Luke went on to reflect on the reason for it all: the loving God who was not only the motivation for all discipleship but the one who inspired it and made it possible.

In speaking of the heart of his God Jesus was speaking not simply from his familiarity with the beautiful prophetic tradition of Israel but above all from his personal experience, the fruit of his own prayer.

Luke 15:1-7  -  Parable – A Rejoicing Shepherd

1 Tax-collectors and sinners were all coming close to him
to listen to him. 
2 The Pharisees and scribes grumbled to one another,
"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

The stories that follow took the reality of sinfulness for granted. God does not deny or downplay the destructiveness of sin. But God’s focus is not sin; it is sinners.

The narrative had shown Jesus as guest of tax collectors. Jesus was now criticised as welcoming host. Not only was Jesus apparently prepared to accept and to forgive, but to express genuine solidarity with sinners. He welcomes and eats with them. The image of Jesus as host evoked in Luke’s audience the Christian community’s experience of table fellowship and of Eucharist.

Luke drew on three of Jesus’ parables to depth the heart of God.

3 So he told them this parable: 
4 “Of you, which of you is not like this?  
You have one hundred sheep.  
You lose one of them.
You leave the ninety-nine,
and go off after the lost one until you find it.
5 You find it,
put it on your shoulders rejoicing. 
6 You get back home.  
You call your friends and neighbours and tell them,
'Celebrate with me.  
I found the sheep that I lost'. 
7 In a similar way, I assure you,
there will be joy in heaven over one repentant sinner
than over ninety-nine just people who have no need to repent.

Christian tradition has in many ways domesticated the story. The grammatical construction invited listeners to identify themselves with the shepherd.  To see themselves as shepherds would have made his audience of Pharisees choke. There lay the “sting” of the parable. They could never have spontaneously identified themselves with a shepherd. In the estimation of the time, shepherds were unclean. More than that they were regarded as violent and dishonest. They were the scum of society. Jesus’ suggestion was offensive. 

Besides, for the shepherd to leave ninety-nine sheep, without fences and without a sheep-dog, and to leave them defenceless while he went off looking for one lost one would have been the height of irresponsibility. To then let all his friends and neighbours know of his foolishness (even though in this case it paid off), and invite them to rejoice with him, would have been seen simply as compounding his stupidity.

Jesus was talking about God. Joy in heaven was another way of referring to God’s joy. Jesus was effectively saying that when confronted with sinners God abandoned all sense of personal honour. God was stupid. Forgiveness was idiocy. But God was like that. In the mind of God every sinner was of infinite worth, and reconciliation was cause for unbounded joy.

Whether intending to do so or not, the parable also challenges those Christians who fear that emphasis on God’s unconditional forgiveness, rather than on punishment, is dangerous, serving to leave sinners undisturbed and unrepentant. Jesus spoke of a God apparently reckless enough to take the risk.


Exploring the Heart of God (2)

Luke 15:5-8  -  Parable – A Rejoicing Woman 

8 “There was a woman with ten drachmas.  
If she lost one,
would she not light a lamp and sweep out the house
and keep looking carefully for it
until she found it;
9 then, when she found it,
call her friends and neighbours together,
and tell them,' Celebrate with me.  
I found the drachma that I lost'?  
10 In a similar way, I assure you,
there will be joy among the angels of God in heaven
over one sinner who repents.”

If the question were to conclude after verse eight, perhaps the anticipated response would be to agree. However, with the question mark left where it is, after the reference to common celebration at the end of verse nine, the response might be negative.  Again, the story was parable. 

The woman’s reaction was over-reaction. To summon friends and neighbours to celebrate simply finding a lost coin was unnecessary; it bordered on the extreme.

There may be an element of the unreasonable, the extreme, in God’s readiness to forgive, indeed in God’s rejoicing in forgiveness. For Jesus, such was the heart of God.

Perhaps better than did the preceding parable, this one gently insinuated that rejoicing in forgiveness reflected the feminine energy of the heart of God.

Next >> Luke 15:11-32