Luke 5:27-32: Jesus the Friend of Sinners

One of the things that Christianity used to turn the world upside down was the meal, yes the simple act of sitting down together to eat. Religious and social norms were perpetuated by the meal, and it played an important role in society. Ideas about nationality, gender, class and religious purity were all supported by the way a meal was practiced. In Greco-Roman society an aristocratic woman who went to a meal with her husband was not better than a slave or prostitute; slaves and masters did not sit down at the same table, for the slave was to serve. Jews did not eat with Samaritans and other Gentiles. And there were certain people a good religious Jew could not in decency eat with. Then Jesus comes along eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. He casts the mould for Christians normalizing our unity in Christ as brethren over all these other identities. The Lord’s Table stood as a meal that turned these norms on their heads. Slaves could be elders in the church and over their masters; Jews and Gentiles sat at the same table; men and women were coheirs; and even those who were once ostracised for great sin were welcomed as part of the family with their past forgiven when they repented.

As we come to Luke 5:27-32 we come face to face with an aspect of the Messiah that would have been unexpected for most in the first century. The Jews were anticipating a Messiah that would come to judge sinners, but we see a Saviour who has come to save sinners and bring them to repentance so that their sins and not they are put to death. This portion brings the conflict of what Christ came to do and what the religious leaders expected to the forefront. Now here is the main difference, the religious leaders thought there was only one type of sinner, those who did not square up to their view of the law, but Jesus believed that there are two ways to be a sinner, you can be religious, self-righteous, separated and diligent and be a sinner; and He recognised the more traditional view that a sinner is basically a law breaker. Legalism and licentiousness are two roads to hell, Jesus comes to save all types of sinners, but not everyone thinks they need saving.

Our portion deals with Jesus saving a tax collector, and this bringing him into conflict with the self-righteous, the one repents and gets saved; the others do not. Let’s look at these in turn.