Jesus’ inclusive ministry crossed ethnic lines, offending Jewish racial prejudices. It also offended self-satisfied religious leaders.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).
They were offended that Jesus was treating tax collectors and sinners with hospitality. To welcome others and eat with them signaled equality and friendship. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were offended that Jesus gathered such people around himself and taught them.
The Pharisees were waiting for God to fulfill his promises to Israel—to redeem the people, vindicate the righteous, free them from oppression, and rid the wicked Romans from the land. The sinners whom Jesus was welcoming were standing in the way of Israel’s salvation. If Israel were truly faithful to the Law, pursuing holiness as the Pharisees saw it, then God would respond and unleash salvation.
The Pharisees didn’t merely pass judgment on Jesus’ friends, they despised sinners and tax collectors because they were the obstacle to salvation, to Israel’s restoration. And they were confident that God felt the same way.
Jesus’ inclusive ministry, therefore, was seriously provocative and highly offensive.
Jesus then tells three parables to expose their reaction and contrast it with God’s.
He tells the parable of the lost sheep:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:3-7).
Then he tells the parable of the lost coin:
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10).
Both parables make the point that God himself exults with great joy whenever one sinner repents and is restored.
It’s at this point that Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal’s older brother. Many readers regard these as two parables and stop after v. 24. But that’s only the first part of the singular parable.
The prodigal’s restoration exposes the reaction of the older brother. He finds it difficult to rejoice and to enter into the joy of his father. In fact, he resents his father’s joy at his brother’s return.
It may be that he wants his brother to pay for what he’s done. He’s gone off and behaved foolishly and destructively. He shouldn’t have a party simply for crawling back home. He needs to spend some time in the doghouse!
But the father’s words to the older brother constitute the message Jesus wants to deliver to the Pharisees and teachers of the law:
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’” (Luke 15:31-32).
Enjoyment of God’s salvation in Jesus is open to all and its privileges belong to all of us. All God’s children have access to Kingdom flourishing.
We must also remember to faithfully enter into the joy of Jesus and the Father of Jesus when others are restored. Any resentment that grows in our hearts because of God’s mercy toward others must be exposed and transformed, by God’s grace, into rejoicing.
3 thoughts on “The Offensive Inclusivity of Jesus’ Family, Pt. 2”
This passage from Ezekiel comes to mind. I wonder if it came to the minds of the Pharisees.
‘…you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.
The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version, Eze 34:4–6 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989).
Good question, Phil. I wonder if they read passages like that and applied it to others!? It’s our tendency to read Scripture and envision others as its target, rather than ourselves.
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