Hanging Around With The Wrong Crowd

Luke offers us two “lost things” stories told inside a larger narrative in which some religious experts were criticizing Jesus for spending time with tax collectors and sinners and daring to eat at their tables.
LostAndFoundThe experts knew the rules and genuinely worked hard to live by them. Jesus does not critique that here. What he critiques is their attitude toward those who did not live by the rules, indeed, those who might be called “lost.”
In their view, such persons were either lazy or weak or rebellious. In other words, it was the fault of the lost that they were lost.
The question is, what should be done about this. For them, that was clear. Stay away from them. If they’re going to “return,” that’s up to them. “Hanging with the wrong crowd” is only likely to get you moving in the wrong direction, too.
To be sure, these experts had solid biblical backing for that solution. And it’s present in both testaments, so Christians have often offered the same advice. “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16, drawing on Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, and 20:7). “Come out from among them!” (2 Corinthians 6:17, rephrasing Isaiah 52.11). “Pure religion … is to care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
We know this from experience, too, don’t we? We tend to become like the people we hang around with. So if we’re working to start a new habit, or stop an old one, it helps a lot to surround ourselves with others who already have that new habit, rather than “fall in” with folks who are continuing in habits we’re trying to break or change.
Jesus doesn’t disagree about the potentially deleterious effect of “bad company.” But he also doesn’t see that as an excuse to leave the lost to fend for themselves. That only ensures they remain lost. Lost coins and lost sheep cannot restore themselves. For the most part, Jesus implies in telling these stories, neither can lost people.
So to Jesus, when people get lost, it’s up to the community, not simply to the lost individuals, to go and help them find their way home. We see this in the story of the prodigal father, too–the father sees the son while the son is a long way off and goes running to greet him, and it is the father’s action, not the son’s request, that restores the son.
Jesus takes the work of restoring the lost a step further. We seek and even “hang with” the lost, not simply to make them happy, or ourselves happy, that they become found. Jesus says the very angels in heaven rejoice whenever the lost are found. All heaven is out to seek and find the lost. (Sound familiar from I Timothy?)
That’s why Jesus eats with sinners.
That’s why we remember this every time we gather at the Lord’s Table.
And that’s why we, his disciples, should not only remember that Jesus ate with the lost, but we ourselves, should, too.