Do you ever feel resentful or get upset when someone else gets treated better than you think they deserve? The scribes and Pharisees took great offense at Jesus because he went out of his way to meet with sinners and he treated them like they were his friends. The Pharisees had strict regulations about how they were to keep away from sinners, lest they incur ritual defilement. They were not to entrust money to them or have any business dealings with them, nor trust them with a secret, nor entrust orphans to their care, nor accompany them on a journey, nor give their daughter in marriage to any of their sons, nor invite them as guests or be their guests. They were shocked with the way in which Jesus freely received sinners and ate with them.
Sinners, nonetheless, were drawn to Jesus to hear him speak about the mercy of God. Jesus characteristically answered the Pharisees’ charge with one of his own… “Hypocrites!” St. Paul cannot avoid being a sinner, as we see in the second reading, but he does avoid hypocrisy by acknowledging that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.”
What does Jesus’ story about a lost sheep and a lost coin tell us about God and his kingdom? That both the shepherd and the housewife “search until what they have lost is found.” Their persistence pays off. They both value that for which they sought and instinctively share their joy with the whole community when it is found. The poor are particularly good at sharing in one another’s sorrows and joys.
What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for. God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. Seekers of the lost are much needed today.
(Adapted from Don Schwager)