Luke 15 begins with a frequent complaint about Jesus’ behavior by the religious leaders.
— Luke 15.1-2 – Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
A Review of Jesus’ Mission
It is worth taking a few minutes to see how Jesus’ offer of table fellowship to outcast tax collectors and sinners fit the purpose of God for his life.
(1) At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus identified his work with the promised Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4.18-19)
The method Jesus used to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom for the oppressed was to become their friend.
Jesus defeated the enemies of God by making them his friends.
(2) Early in the Gospel of Luke, the religious authorities complained about Jesus’ willingness to attend a party comprised of tax collectors and sinners at Levi’s house.
–– Luke 5.30-32 – The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick;
“I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus explained to his critics that as the Great Physician he was willing to make house calls to the sick.
(3) Jesus did not limit his table fellowship to the outcasts of society. He often ate with the religious leaders of his day.
One such occasion a sinful woman crashed the party, wept on Jesus’ feet, and created quite a stir with her overt devotion to Jesus.
After telling the host of the dinner a parable about love and forgiveness, Jesus turned to the woman and said this about her.
— Luke 7.47 – “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
With his words, he released the woman from the guilt of her sin and confronted his religious host with a challenge to his self-righteous attitude.
There are three parables recorded in Luke 15 that further explain why Jesus was so willing to eat with tax collectors and sinners.
The first parable involved a lost sheep.
— Luke 15.3-6 – So he told them this parable:
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
“When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
“And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”
Parables are designed to get listeners to accept the point of view of the speaker, where direct speech may result in an unwillingness to hear.
All of Jesus’ listeners would have easily identified with the shepherd and applauded his willingness to rescue a lost sheep.
They could all imagine the effort required to search for the sheep, only to have to carry it home on his shoulders. They also could identify with the joy of returning the lost sheep to the herd.
All parables have a “punch line,” where the speaker applies the message to the listeners.
–– Luke 15.7 – “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.”
While the religious authorities were complaining over Jesus’ friendship with tax collectors and sinners, the heavenly host was rejoicing.
How can people who devote their lives to the service of God complain when all of heaven is full of joy?
How can they disapprove of Jesus’ methods when they enable the transformation of outcasts and sinners?
A Message for Today
As the Great Physician, Jesus made friends with sinners to help them discover forgiveness and new life.
We can ask the Lord to guide us to the person or persons who need our friendship. We can use our friendship with them for the purpose of helping them experience God’s love.
A couple of days ago, I quoted from the latest Pew Research findings that Christian faith in America is at an all-time low.
Our friendship with people who are distant from God can change that statistic, by reaching out to person at a time.
Please ask God to identify the person he wants you to focus your attention upon.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this parable on today’s YouTube video. It can be found on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
Please email your prayer request to firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.