1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).
The way the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were mouthing these words was with much venom and disgust. The Greek word diagongyzō is the word translated as muttered in verse 2. This word is stronger than the simple Greek word gongyzō, more often used in Scripture. It meant to complain or grumble (aloud). They were voicing their disdain so much that the ordinary people could hear their disgust. I'm sure Christ's heart went out to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ that he was seeking to reach, that they might know God’s heart towards them is one of love and mercy extended.
The Jews saw tax collectors as being turncoats. They were making money hand over fist working for the Romans in taxing their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were sometimes ranked with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32) and thought of as the lowest of the low. The religious elite used the word “Sinners” to describe those who were held in bondage to a sinful lifestyle. The Greek word translated is harmartolos. It speaks of one not careful at all about the observance of ceremonial duties, an irreligious person. The term used spoke of either an immoral person or a person whose occupation was not ceremonially clean.
Much of the population had given up on trying to keep all the rules and regulations that the traditions of the elders, had imposed on the general populous. It is the same today in many countries—it is just different religions. The rules were so numerous and nonsensical that it became a heavy burden to the people. Many felt alienated and far away from God. When Jesus came preaching about God’s love for lost and unloved sinners, the ordinary people were drawn to Him. We don't know what Jesus looked like, but his personality was and is attractive, He is altogether lovely (Song of Solomon 5:16). When those caught in their sin looked at the Scribes and Pharisees, their scowls showed no godliness or grace at all. There was no accepting attitude. They did not see God's love in the religious leaders. People know when they are loved. When they looked at Christ, He had an open heart and welcomed sinners eagerly. The orthodox Jews had written off the tax collectors and sinners as worthy of the fires of hell, but God is gracious and extends kindness to men. He takes the initiative to seek those alienated from Him.
But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him (2 Samuel 14:14).
What a beautiful truth the above passage communicates. The creator of the Universe has devised ways of reaching out to each of us. I believe that God has arranged situations in your life and mine so that through the painful trials we undergo, God reveals Himself to us. The trials you are experiencing are used by God to shake you out of spiritual lethargy, forcing you to wake up to the reality of a God who is seeking to draw you closer to Himself. How far will you go before you turn to the One who welcomes sinners?