During our series on “The Prodigal (extravagant) God”, we are spending our time in Luke 15 comparing Jesus’ story of the actions and reactions of the conscience-stricken younger son and his self-righteous elder brother. Jesus was drawing larger and larger crowds who listened eagerly to his teaching. Luke tells us the growing crowd often consisted of “sinners and tax collectors”. In fact, the term is used eight times in the Gospels (Matt 2:16; 9:10,11; 11:19; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:30; 7:34 and here in Ch 15).
But who, exactly, were these people? In the ultra-religious land of Judea, the “sinners” were the immoral (murderers, robbers, deceivers) or those with occupations the religious people regarded as incompatible with the religious Law. This included the “tax-collectors” who had bought licences from the Roman occupiers to legitimately “make money”. The licences allowed them to add a commission of their own choosing, just as long as the correct taxes were paid to the Romans. Clearly, these types of people were not likely to frequent the local synagogues or the temple in Jerusalem. The holy teachers of the time would not even associate with these people, even to teach them the Law. And eating with them was regarded as worse than merely associating with them.
And yet these social and moral reprobates were flocking to Jesus, drawing closer to him, dining with him, listening to him and following him while the holy teachers of the time took offense at Jesus. Even from the earliest of John the Baptist’s teaching these people were genuinely convicted of their sin and their lives changed (Luke 3:10-14). God’s Holy Spirit was at work amongst them!
It is worth reflecting on this a bit more!