“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:1-10, RSV).
Joy in heaven over my repentance? Angels of God rejoicing in heaven over my change of heart? We must be so precious in the eyes of God. And our salvation must mean a lot to God and the whole host of heaven. No wonder the Psalmist declares: “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor” (Ps 8:4-5).
Luke chapter 15 begins with an important statement: Sinners are drawing near to Jesus. That raises a problem among some of the Pharisaic and Scribal community. Obviously, they seem scandalized at the sight of Jesus’ openness to this category of people. In their mind they are probably thinking: “Jesus is too holy for these sinners;” and “These sinners are too sinful and unworthy of Jesus’s company.” Luke does not explicitly indicate the demeanor of Jesus towards the sinners mentioned in this passage. But we can have a sense of Jesus’s attitude in this particular instance based on the following complaint of the Pharisees and Scribes: “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (15:2). The word “receives” used here is quite significant. Other versions of the Bible, for example, the New American Bible, use the word “welcomes.” This suggests to us that, perhaps, Jesus was very approachable and warm in receiving the “sinners.” In this specific instance, it is quite possible that his joy at being able to welcome these sinners and interact with them was so expressed in a manner that was visible to all. It is this demeanor of Jesus that must have incurred the displeasure of the Pharisees and Scribes.
The Lord was happier still because, more importantly, the sinners were drawing near to listen to him. The RSV simply states that sinners were drawing near to Jesus. But the original Greek translation of the New Testament as well as other versions of the Bible (including the NAB) correctly report that the sinners in Luke 15:1 were drawing near to listen to Jesus. It is, therefore, not just the drawing near which excites Jesus, but the realization that they were paying attention to him. This realization must have brought him intense joy. He saw an openness on the part of these sinners to his teaching and, perhaps, also a willingness on their part to turn from their sins. Jesus does not simply rejoice because people draw near to him. He rejoices more over the fact that people are open to his message of repentance and salvation. We know that he even cautioned against the temptation to think that merely being in his company or working wonders in his name equates to salvation: “And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets. Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’” (Luke 6:26-27; cf. Matt 7:21-22). Merely being “around” Jesus does not save. Listening to him and doing his will does. And that makes him rejoice over you.
This leads to the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In both parables, Jesus makes a stunning revelation: There is rejoicing in heaven, even among angels, over the repentance of one sinner. By this revelation, what message did Jesus wish to communicate to his audience? It is simple. Being the Son of God, heaven belongs to him. More radically put, he is himself the “heaven.” This explains why he rejoices in the present moment over the openness of sinners to the Good News of salvation. In other words, it is his “divine right” to rejoice over our repentance and salvation. Of course, as the eternal Son of God he is not in need of being joyful. But by extending his love to us, our salvation – our repentance has become an occasion for joyous celebration, even in heaven. We are precious in his sight, for we belong to him. Jesus’s heart is filled with expectations that we will heed his call to repentance and be saved. When we draw near to him and listen to him, his heart throbs with inexpressible joy. He cannot, and will not, hide his joy over our acceptance of his saving message. This divine rejoicing in our salvation may be referred to as the joy of salvation.
In fact, not only does heaven rejoice in our repentance and salvation, we the “redeemed of the Lord” are equally called to share in the joy of salvation. Let us recall the following words of Jesus: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-11). When David repented after the Lord, through the prophet Nathan, rebuked him over his unholy affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Urriah, no wonder he pleaded with the Lord: “Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps 51:12). When we depart from the way of the Lord, we lose this holy joy. David knew it. He, therefore, was right to ask, as part of his prayer for forgiveness, that the joy of salvation be restored unto him.
The Lord is kind and merciful. He forgives, he heals and he saves. He calls you today to be cheerful and rejoice with him over your repentance and salvation. Let no one or nothing stop you from sharing in the joy of salvation. The Lord invites you to draw near to him. He invites you to listen to him that your sins may be forgiven. Once you accept his Good News the joy of salvation comes to you as a free unmerited gift. Rejoice with the Lord! Let the redeemed of the Lord rejoice and celebrate the kindness and mercies of the Lord. Amen.
Invitation to pray:
Father in heaven, I bless your name. I know you are near to me. Have mercy on me a sinner and cleanse me in the Blood of your Son. By the power of your Spirit, lead me to yourself to experience your love and mercy. Let me experience and live the joy of your salvation. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.