Column: Lost in translation
“This man welcomes sinners …” – Luke 15:1
So said the Jewish leaders about Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, and it was not a compliment.
Tax collectors and “sinners” – “prostitutes” is the text’s meaning in ancient Hebrew – gathered to hear Jesus. The Pharisees are incredulous that Jesus associates with these awful people. But these “awful people” are exactly who Jesus came to save.
And what is the point, even 2,000 years later? Brace yourself. That we – all of us – are these “awful people.”
But that’s not what Jesus tells them, or tells us. Not exactly. What Jesus told these particular sinners were three parables about lost things that their shepherd, owner and father, respectively, desperately wanted to find. The “Lost” parables are Jesus describing His mission on Earth in search of the “sinners” – the lost lambs, coins and sons, the things of value to His Father, God.
It’s interesting that Jesus never called anyone a “sinner,” not to their face, anyway. Jesus frequently refers to sinners, says He’s here to save sinners and will be delivered into the hands of sinners. It’s pretty easy to read the Bible and pick out who the sinners are. I think that is because most of us, I’m sorry to say, can relate.
Jesus encounters sinners and simply says, “Follow me.” In the case of the Pharisees and others who refused to see His mission as the divinely predicted Messiah Christ, Savior of the world sent by the Creator of the world, Jesus wrapped His message in parables. Only those with “ears to hear” could understand.
Interestingly, the “Lost” parables appear exclusively in the Gospel of Luke, which deconstructs the Jewish view of whom God is pursuing: “not the righteous, but the sinners” (Luke 5:32). Luke after all was Greek, the only non-Jew among the Gospel writers or Apostles. His writings emphasize that Jesus came for the gentiles, too.
Jesus describes the “one Lost Sheep of a hundred” (Luke 15:4-7) that is sought by its shepherd. The sheep doesn’t understand repentance or salvation; it only knows its own fear and separation. The woman rejoices over finding the Lost Coin (verses 8-10), but consider: the coin does not know it is lost. The Prodigal Son (verses 11-31) willfully strays in profound, intentional sin, yet is welcomed back home lovingly, triumphantly by his father, (“…alive again; he was lost but is found.” Verse 31)
In attempting to share the loving, saving message of Christ, too often Christians focus on the sin of the sinner rather than the love, glory and joy of the Father.
Jesus does it the other way around. Something to think about.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) never understood he was lost, until he was found.