It’s a hot afternoon in Jerusalem.
A group of men are sitting under a shade tree listening to their friend and teacher share his teachings.
The teacher’s quite fond of telling stories and today isn’t any different.
Growing up around Jerusalem they’re each familiar with farmers and shepherds and so the teachers asks, “If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.”
A pretty powerful picture for a group of men who had grown up with perhaps a slightly different take on farming.
After giving them a second to think on the story, the teacher continues, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
The men smile at each other and nod in agreement.
“But if they will not listen,” the teacher continues, “Take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the community of believers; and if they refuse to listen even to the community of believers, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
A few in the group begin to whisper among themselves.
“I can’t stand tax collectors.”
“That’ll show ‘em. Toss ‘em out.”
But one of the men hears these words and remembers his past. He used to live as a tax collector. Not only was a he a tax collector, but he was a Jewish tax collector, collecting money for the Roman government who was known for oppressing the Jewish people.
He then reflects back on the day he first saw the teacher.
He was sitting in his tax booth, collecting taxes when suddenly this man approached him and simply said, “Follow me. Be covered in the dust of my sandals.”
He had heard about this teacher before but never expected this teacher to approach him, let alone ask him to follow him.
He immediately left his table and began following this unique teacher who showed him love, compassion and acceptance like he had never felt before.
These words, “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” flowed through his heart. He connected the stories the teacher told. He knew exactly what the teacher was suggesting. He was one of those lost sheep and the teacher had left many others to seek after him.
“This teacher showed me — the tax collector — love, grace, forgiveness, compassion and acceptance,” he thought. “Wow! He’s saying that’s how we should treat everyone! Even if they ignore our correction and the church’s correction.”
Something strong stirred inside the man. He knew he’d have to write this story down later.
And while excitement was growing in this man, something else was stirring in one of the others.