He Eats with Sinners and Looks for Sheep

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

September 15, 2019

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


Yesterday we began to talk about the grand story we can read in the Bible—the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. We began to understand how even the most puzzling passages in the Bible help us grasp the outlines of this story. And we began to ponder what it means to be saved by God’s grace.

In today’s passage, we read more about the grace of God. This parable follows directly on a criticism of Jesus by some of the religious leaders of his day in Luke 15:1-2. They are upset that Jesus has a following among tax collectors and sinners (if you want to know why tax collectors were seen as a particularly awful kind of sinner, you can read more here in this explanation of the calling of Levi by the Theology of Work Project.)  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” they exclaim.

Over the long years of exile after the kingdoms of Israel and Judah fell, part of the way the Jewish people had kept their faith through all their times of trial involved developing rules about what, and who, was clean or pure—and what, or who, was not. It is out of that complex of laws on ritual purity that they speak here. Jesus has some small fame as a traveling rabbi, and risking ritual uncleanness is not normal for your average upstanding traveling rabbi.

But it’s easy for us to place that in the past, blame the Pharisees, and not think about how we today as Christians decide who and what is clean and unclean—how we expect God to work only in certain places and among certain kinds of people. Do we limit God’s grace to our own churches, our own families, our own countries, our own social classes? The parable Jesus tells about the lost sheep is very clear: wherever there are sinners, Jesus says, he will find them and love them and offer them grace.

And since that’s all of us, it ought to be a very comforting thought.

Something to Think About:

What does Jesus need to save you from?

Are you ready to accept his grace?

How can you offer the grace of Jesus to others, at work and at home and in all of your relationships?

Something to Do:

Find a way today to offer the grace of Christ to someone. This may involve verbal witness to who Jesus is and what he has done for you—but it may not. Think about the quote traditionally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Ask Jesus to help you know when to preach with words and when to preach with deeds.


Lord, thank you for your amazing grace. Thank you that you will never leave a lost sheep behind. Thank you for eating with sinners—above all when we remember at the Communion table how your death and resurrection saved us, but also every day and every hour as we go about our daily work.  Amen.

Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Do You Hang Out With Tax Collectors and Sinners?

Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the

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