As wonderful as these stories are in Luke 15, they become more poignant when we remember the context. Jesus is again eating with the wrong people, while the right people murmur in disapproval at this well regarded teacher.
Time and time and time again in the Gospels we run into people in need. Time and time and time again in the Gospels we are told about ordinary people who are the outcasts of proper society. Some are outcasts for legitimate reasons. They steal from their own countrymen to line their own pockets; they have sex with other people's husbands, etc... Some are outcasts for health reasons. They have an infectious disease, possessed by violent demons, etc... Some are outcasts because they are seen to have no value. They can't see; they can't walk; they are poor, etc...
The sad tragedy is that even among the people who have the wise Law of The Living God, where people are to love their neighbour as themselves, we find people who are judged as, and then believe and live as though they are, hopeless.
If they are allowed to be with the others in synagogue, they stand at the back. Otherwise, they are not allowed to be taught or worship the Lord with the others. And, in this religious-centred culture, that is devastating. They certainly wouldn't be invited into proper people's homes. And, any small gesture of kindness is seen as the greatest kindness ever. They should be thankful they are allowed to beg. They should be thankful for the scraps that are given to them.
How do we know this is true? Look at the reaction of the proper discovering Jesus eating with them. "He welcomes sinners and eats with them." Murmur, murmur. And Jesus responds with a simple truth: people who are lost will remain that way until someone goes out and finds them.
And with that, Jesus teaches us. Jesus heals us. Jesus restores us. Jesus eats with us. Jesus spends time with us. Jesus does this for each and every single one of us. This is the most astounding truth of the good news of Jesus. Despite the fact each of us have rejected His complete Lordship in our lives in one facet or another; despite the fact that each of us have walked away from Him and wondered off the path He has laid before us; He seeks us out and does so at tremendous cost. The Word became flesh and lived among us. While we were still sinners, Christ came and died for us.
Before Jesus leaves the Holy Spirit with us, he tells us to "Go and make disciples..." Some do this very well and others of us still find it difficult to find the poor in spirit. Why? I have erroneously taught in the past that we are now in a marketplace culture. But, fact of the matter is, we have always been a marketplace culture. The only investment we make in each other are those who will buy our products, make our lives easier, enhance our reputation, etc... These are the people we spend the vast majority of our time with.
And, loving the unlovable is not easy. We do not live in an idealised world. Even if we love perfectly, it does not guarantee the desired results of love and grace in return. Well, at least not from some people. But, with others and, more importantly, the King of kings, we will reap a harvest one hundred times what was sown.
For those of us who walk humbly with the Lord our God, we remember times when each of us are unlovable. I can be quite unlovable. I can be grumpy and surly. I can be quite unapproachable. But, I am so thankful for the times that despite my unlovability, my wife and other people like her do anyway.
What does it take to love the unlovable, to approach the unapproachable, to go to the lost? The greatest missionary besides Jesus writes to his young apprentice, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Cowards cannot love. Timid people cannot find the lost.
Father, give me courage to love each person you have created. Thank you for giving us the power we need to go out and find those who are lost, just like others have done for me.