Tax collectors and sinners resonate with Jesus’s inviting message of belonging and repentance.
The overly legalistic Pharisees and scribes begin slandering Jesus for mingling with these people whom they had rejected.
In response, Jesus tells three parables to the Pharisees and scribes:
“The Parable of the Lost Sheep,” about a shepherd that leaves ninety-nine of his sheep in the pasture in search of one single lost sheep, and the joy he feels upon finding it. Jesus then tells His adversaries that there is more joy in heaven when one sinner repents over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t.
“The Parable of the Lost Coin,” about a woman with ten coins who loses one. She turns her house upside down in search of the one lost coin. When she finds it, she rejoices. Jesus concludes the parable with another declaration about the value of repentance: “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
“The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” about a father with two sons, neither of whom understand their Father’s love toward them, or what is actually in their best interest. The younger brother represents the attitude of sinners the Pharisees complained about, and the older brother represents the Pharisees.
The first half of the parable tells how the younger son prematurely demanded his inheritance and left his father for a distant country where he squandered it all. After he became desperate, and believing himself to be unworthy as a son, he returned home hoping to be hired by his father. Instead, the father graciously reinstated him as a son and called for a major celebration because, in his words: “This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
The second half of the parable tells how the older son bitterly pouted and scolded his father for celebrating his lost brother’s humiliating return. The father graciously reminded his older son of his love for him and that it was his brother who returned. The father invited him to choose joy and forgiveness and join the celebration because, as he put it: “This brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”