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All the tax collectors and sinners are drawing close to hear Jesus, and the highbrows don't like it one bit: "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). Nothing we haven't heard before.
As usual, Jesus responds with a little illustration.
A shepherd's herding his flock of one-hundred sheep, but one of them turns up missing. What does he do? He leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and goes off to search for the one missing sheep. When he finds the lost sheep, he carries it home rejoicing, and he invites his friends and neighbors over to celebrate with him.
That's what the joy in heaven is like for the person who turns his life around (as opposed to the ninety-nine who are fine and dandy).
How 'bout another story?
A woman has ten coins. If she loses one, she lights the lamp, sweeps her house, and searches tirelessly until she finds it. When she does find it, she invites her friends and neighbors over for a big celebration. Here's to finding the lost coin!
That's exactly what the joy is like among God's angels when one person turns his life around.
Okay, one more story. This one's really good, so pay attention.
A father has two sons. The younger son asks his dad for his part of the inheritance, so the dad divides up all he's got.
It's not long before the younger son gathers up his heap of the money, goes off to a faraway land, and squanders every cent in sinful living. He's a veritable [insert washed up celebrity here].
But when severe famine grips his new country, the younger son feels the pinch.
One of the citizens hires him to herd his pigs. Don't forget, pigs are unclean for Jews who cannot eat pork (Leviticus 11:7 and Deuteronomy 14:8). Evidently, the younger son has gone to a non-Jewish region.
The poor kid's so hungry he's trying to eat leftover pig-feed, but nobody even allows him to eat that. The kid starts to think about all of his father's employees who are eating plenty of bread. And here he is totally famished.
He might as well swallow his pride, go to his father, and apologize for being such an idiot. He'll even ask for a demotion from son to employee. He's not really worthy to be his father's son anyway.
The kid makes this resolution and heads back home.
While he's approaching his house, his father catches a glimpse of him, is moved to compassion, runs over to him for some hugs and kisses.
The kid starts to say what he had rehearsed back at the pig-farm. He confesses his stupid actions and admits he's not worthy to be his father's son.
But before he can ask for a demotion, the father, who's not really listening anyway, orders his servants to go and get his nicest suit for his son to wear, a ring for his finger, and a pair of sandals. Then they should sacrifice a juicy, meaty, and fat cow, so they can all celebrate over a good meal.
His son is like a revived corpse. He was lost and then found. (An alarm should be going off reminding you to think back to 15:3-10.)
Meanwhile, the older son's working in the field. As he gets close to the house, he hears the sounds of celebration. Music's being played, and people are dancing.
He asks one of the servants what's going on. The servant informs him that his brother has returned home in decent health and his father's throwing a big party for him. He's served up the best steak in the house.
The older brother is not cool with this and refuses to join the party.
His father comes out to invite him to join everyone. No siree. The older brother points out that he's worked so hard for several years and has always obeyed all of his father's orders, but he's never even received ground chuck to grill up some burgers and celebrate with his friends.
And here this son of his has returned from wasting all of his father's hard-earned money on whores. It's just not fair that he's cooking up the Porterhouse steaks for this idiot.
The father reasons with his older son. He's always with him; they share everything together. But this brother of his is like a revived corpse. He was lost and then found. So we've heard. That's reason to celebrate.
And here ends the lesson, directed to some very annoyed highbrows.