Do we welcome into the church, and into our lives, people who have a very different past from our own?  In the appointed Gospel passage for this week Jesus says: “there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents more than over ninety-nine just people who have no need of repentance!”  In order to fully understand the significance of these words and the context in which Jesus said them, we need to know the common sayings of strict Jews in Jesus’ time.  One of the pharisaic sayings was: “there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God!”  For Jesus it was not about destruction of the sinner but, rather, salvation of the sinner.  Jesus backs this up with two very well-known stories.  The first story is of a shepherd who risks his own safety to recover one lost sheep from the flock.  The second story is of a woman who loses one of ten silver pieces and then hunts for it until she finds it and her set is once again complete.  In both these cases there is exuberant joy.  In the case of the sheep, these would often belong to a village.  To lose one sheep was to reduce the assets and productive capacity of the village community.  Frequently the villagers would wait with anticipation late into the night until the shepherd returned with the lost sheep carried on his shoulders.  What infectious joy would then spread through the whole of the village.  This, said Jesus, is what God is like.  God is passionate about as many of us as possible coming back to Him if we ever stray away.  These people, often with a different past from our own, need to be made fully welcome in the church and, indeed, we should rejoice enthusiastically over their return.