When Jesus looked at the people who followed him, he saw sheep with no leader—people who were considered outside of God’s blessing, God’s provision. They followed him because they were desperate for God’s touch and help. There were many who could not gain anything from the leaders in Jerusalem, because they were rejected and hated by God’s people. They were outcast and they gained nothing from God’s people. No one who was acceptable would go to their house. And Jesus knew that they needed him most of all.
As Jesus was travelling around Galilee, from one synagogue to another, a man inflicted with leprosy came to Jesus. Leprosy was a skin disease that showed that one was judged by the evil one. Because of the infectious nature of the disease and because whoever had it was considered to no longer be a part of God’s people, lepers were forced to live out of Jewish settlements and to declare “Leper! Unclean!” whenever they came near others.
Rather than tell the leper to go away, Jesus listened to the leper as he said, “If you wish, Jesus, you could make me clean.” Jesus then touched the leper and said, “I do wish. Be clean.” Immediately, the man was cleansed. Jesus then told him, “You must follow the teaching of Moses. Go to the priest at the temple and have him declare you clean. And tell no one who cleaned you.” But the former leper told everyone about Jesus who would listen.
One of Jesus’ apostles was Levi, a toll collector. The Jewish people hated toll collectors and those who ruled over them, fir they were traitors to their own people. Jesus, though, called Levi, and asked him to go to his house to eat. For dinner that night, Levi called everyone he knew—tax collectors and sinners whom “proper Jews” would have nothing to do with. Some religious folk were there that night and asked why Jesus was welcoming and eating with these rejected people. Jesus replied, “If you are a healer, you hang around sick people. Even so, if I am called to tell people to repent, I can’t hang around with people who think of themselves as good—I need to be with those who know they are sinners.”
Jesus told the crowds a story. “There was a man who had a hundred sheep. One evening he counted his sheep and found there was one missing. So he left the ninety-nine that were there to find the one. He looked everywhere for him. When he found the one, he held it on his shoulders and told all his neighbors, ‘Rejoice with me—the sheep I had lost is found!’ In the same way, God rejoices when a single sinner comes back to him more than ninety-nine who never left.”
Jesus told another story. “There was a man who had two sons. The youngest son demanded his inheritance early and left home and spent all his money doing evil things. Over time, he ran out of money, and then there was a famine in the land. He got a job feeding unclean animals, and the only food he was able to get was sharing the animals food. Finally, he came to his senses and said, ‘I will go home—even the lowest slave there lives better than I. I will apologize to my father and offer to be his slave.’ When he was close to home, his father saw him and ran up to meet him and hugged him. The son apologized, and offered to be his slave, but the father would have none of that. Instead he held a party.
“That afternoon, as the party was starting, the other son who was in the field working heard the commotion, and asked a servant what was going on. The servant told him that his brother had returned and his father was having a party. The older son was incensed and refused to go in. The father heard of this, and asked the older son why he was angry. The older son said, ‘I’ve been here all these years working for you, and you never held a party for me—why should you for this ungrateful son who sinned with your money?’ The father replied, ‘Son, all I have is yours. But your brother was dead and now he is alive—shouldn’t we celebrate that?’”
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