Everyone wanted to hear Jesus teach. We know the common people heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37). The Pharisees were forever listening in on Him, if for no other reason than to find a way to entrap Him in His teaching (Mark 7:1). He drew such great multitudes of people that He often had to retire to a separate place apart to get rest (Matt. 14:23). The multitudes that followed were so many that He often did not even have time to eat (Mark 3:20). The publicans and sinners also drew near for to hear Him (Luke 15:1). Even the little children wanted to hear the Lord (Mark 10:14).
On one occasion, the Pharisees were critical of the Lord on account that He received and ate with publicans and sinners, who had gathered to listen to Him teach (Luke 15:2). The Pharisees were often an haughty lot (Luke 18:11), though there were some who exhibited humbler attitudes, such as Nicodemus (John 3:1-3) and Joseph of Arimethea (Luke 23:50). But most of the Pharisees were such scoundrels that the Lord could universally blast them with a series of woes highlighting their hypocrisy (Matt. 23:13-29). The Pharisees would never think of associating with sinners (Luke 7:39).
On this occasion, the Pharisees sought to impugn the character of Jesus. They apparently addressed the people, saying, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luke 15:2). They said this as if it would somehow depreciate His teaching and His character. But Jesus did not deny associating with sinners. Instead, He demonstrated that the Pharisee’s views on sin and sinners were not only incorrect but hypocritical, as well.
It stands as a truth that a human being is far more valuable than any dumb animal. Yet, the Pharisees would leave ninety-nine safe sheep of their own to find one sheep that had been lost. If you would do that for the dumb animal, why wouldn’t you do that for a lost soul? If you were to lose an inanimate object like a piece of silver, you would turn the whole house upside down to find it. And when you had found these lost things, you would rejoice.
Likewise, when God loses a soul in the wilderness of sin, or one gets lost in the cracks of the world, when they are found, there is great joy in heaven. The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates like no other the great joy that should accompany the restoration of a lost individual (Luke 15:11-32).
Jesus was sent into this world (John 10:36) but He said “I am not of this world” (John 8:23). Neither was he ever tainted by the wickedness of the world nor wallowed He in it’s filth, but He could interact with sinners and influence them for good (Heb. 4:13). Take for example the incident at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:37). A woman of known ill repute could embrace and kiss His feet yet there is never in the slightest a hint of impropriety on the part of Jesus. Yet Simon saw only the sinner while Jesus saw a lost soul. Simon interpreted her actions as improper, but Jesus saw love oozing from a wounded heart. Simon would not have associated with her by choice and would have castigated her for her sins. Jesus let her know He knew of her many sins but was willing to forgive her.
While Jesus was in the world and interacted with humanity, He never descended to its level. Whatever Paul meant when he said “I became all things to all men” it could not mean anything that contradicted the Lord’s teaching or life. When Jesus attended the supper at Matthew’s house (Mark 2:14,15), the Pharisees again asked, “Why eateth your Master with Publicans and sinners” (Matt. 9:11)? This event was after the Lord called Matthew to follow Him (Matt. 9:19). It is very unlikely that Matthew, after being called by the Lord to be His disciple, would throw a wild, worldly party. It is much more likely that Matthew called all of his old friends to hear Jesus teach them the truth. Jesus was not there to join in any revelry, He was there to teach.
Jesus did not brow beat sinners. It is true He could not seem to bear with the stiff-necked, hard-hearted, arrogant Pharisees. But He never acted as though He was better than those He met (even though He was). He had compassion on the souls that were lost, that hungered and thirsted for righteousness. He did not use people as things but treated them with dignity. He received and ate even with sinners and publicans, but it was in order to bring them to Himself, closer to God. Jesus’ association with the world should be the pattern for our own association with it.
Eric L. Padgett