THE FRIEND OF SINNERS
Not everyone saw Jesus the same way. Surprisingly it was those who were considered "the outcast" by the
religious leaders of His day that most gladly heard Him. He was constantly attracting them to His ministry. It was
the religious establishment, folks like us, who were the most critical of His ministry. One of the consistent
criticisms that they lodged against Him was that He was a friend of sinners. Luke becomes a little more specific
in quoting their accusations when they said, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
We need to understand who the sinners were. In the eyes of the Pharisees of that day anyone who did not live
up to the rules of the religion was labeled "sinner." Quite frankly they had put together such an array of rules
that many people found it impossible to keep the rules. Some of the rules that the sinners broke were
inconsequential, but others were more serious. It might involve not washing the hands properly before eating, or
actually being adulterous.
This criticism of Jesus was never denied by our Lord. Instead of denying the truthfulness of the criticism, Jesus
accepted it and defended it. He pleads guilty to being a Friend of sinners. It was something that was happening
intentionally in His life. He meant to be the Friend of sinners.
The three parables that make up most of this great chapter embody His defense against this criticism. We will
not give consideration to the parables this morning, but over the weeks that lie ahead I want us to look at each
part of these parables so we can understand why Jesus was the friend of sinners and what it meant. This
morning our focus will be simply upon the basis of this criticism. What was it about Jesus that caused the
religious establishment to so quickly label Him as being a friend of the wrong people?
I. HIS ACTIVITIES.
The criticism was based in part upon the things that Jesus did. They were things that He did publicly. The
Gospel of Luke gives several such instances of activities on the part of Jesus that could be understood as Him
befriending the wrong kind of people. We will consider only two of them.
1. The banquet at Matthew's house.
Luke tells us about the calling of Levi or Matthew to be one of the twelve. Before he met Jesus, Matthew was a
tax collector in the city of Capernaum. This vocation made him the object of the scorn of the Pharisees and
religious teachers. In order to be a tax collector he had to make compromises with the Roman government. His
job was to actually collect taxes for the Roman government. The nature of the tax collector’s work makes it
possible for him to be guilty of corruption and injustice. The Pharisees just assumed that if someone was a tax
collector then he had made serious compromises with Rome and was in all likelihood guilty of gross financial
Not only did Jesus invite Matthew to become one of his disciples, but Matthew gave a banquet for him and invited
all of his friends. There were no Pharisees or religious teachers in the circle of friends that Matthew had. His
friends were in the eyes of the Pharisees "sinners." When they realized that Jesus was attending a banquet in
the home of Matthew, some of them found His disciples and registered a compliant. They asked, "Why do you
eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners." Jesus defended his action by saying, "It is not the healthy who
need a doctor but the sick." He also added, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Jesus knowingly and intentionally did things like this that provoked the criticism that He was befriending the
wrong crowd. But He saw this as being a part of His mission. He had come for people just like these.
2. The dinner at Simon's.
Another activity on the part of Jesus that provoked such criticism took place at another dinner. However, this
dinner was in the house of one of the Pharisees, a man named Simon. While Jesus was being entertained by
Simon at a dinner, a well-known woman from the community approached Jesus while He was sitting at the
dinner. It was well known that she had lived a sinful life. She was the wrong kind of woman to be associated with
Jesus. However, "She brought an alabaster box of perfume, and she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she
began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on
them." The action of this woman toward Jesus was very offensive to Simon. What was even more troublesome
to Him was that Jesus did not rebuke or reject the woman. In fact, He gave every evidence that He was delighted
for the woman to wash His feet with her tears. Simon asked, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is
touching him and what kind of woman she is - that she is a sinner."
Instead of apologizing for the event, Jesus defended the event. He explained to Simon that the woman loved him
much because she had been forgiven much. To the consternation of the Pharisee Jesus said to the woman,
"Your sins are forgiven."
Doubtlessly there were other instances like this during our Lord's earthly ministry. It was these episodes that
gave the basis for the accusation and criticism - "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." They meant
to say that Jesus did not have the moral discernment that a godly religious teacher should have. They were
using this as a basis for calling into question His credentials as a man of God. Jesus defended His actions,
however, on the basis that this was indeed His mission from God. He was supposed to be the friend of those
that the religious world considered unclean and condemned.
II. HIS ATTITUDE.
Behind his actions was an attitude. The look in His eye and the tone of His voice when He was dealing with
these that the Pharisees and Scribes considered sinners spoke volumes. It was obvious that He did not see
them the same way the Pharisees saw them.
1. He saw them as persons of worth.
For a true Pharisee the only thing a man like Matthew deserved was the judgment of God. The only thing that
could be right for him would be for God to banish him into hell immediately. They would also consider a woman
like the woman who came into Simon's house as being absolutely worthless. However, in both instances Jesus
provoked their anger when He treated these individuals as being persons of worth.
This was the way Jesus related to all men. He related to Pharisees as though they were persons of worth. But
he related to the defiled and unclean with the same attitude. He saw both the religious and the irreligious as
being persons created in the image of God. As a part of God's creation they were related to God as sons and
daughters. They were persons of worth because they still had in them the very likeness of God Himself. Hidden
beneath all of the evidences of their sinfulness was also evidence that God Himself had made them. Jesus saw
every person as a person of worth because of the One who made them and to whom they were related.
2. He loved them unconditionally.
The best you could say for the Pharisees was that they despised such men as Matthew and such women as the
woman in Simon's house. They detested everything about them. They never missed an opportunity to make it
clear to such people that they were despised and detested.
In contrast to the Pharisee Jesus loved such persons unconditionally. He loved them like they were. He did not
invite such people as Matthew into some kind of project in which they would earn His love, He did not invite the
woman in Simon's house to become a pure person so that she might merit His love. Rather, He loved both of
them like they were. He loved Matthew while he was still a publican and the woman while she was still defiled in
her sin. His attitude toward such people was always love.
We may have difficulty comprehending this. In our relationships we know so little about unconditional love.
Unconditional love was the pattern of our Lord's life. The giving of unconditional love left him open to the charge
that He welcomed and entertained the wrong kind of people. The reason He so freely shared His life with them
was that He loved them.
III. HIS ACCEPTANCE.
This gives expression to the love and attitude that Jesus had toward them. His attitude became the reason for
His acceptance of them. His acceptance of them was symbolized in the fact that He would actually sit down and
eat with them. Eating was such a personal and intimate kind of activity that the Pharisees correctly read into it
acceptance. Jesus was guilty of accepting sinners.
1. He accepted them on the basis of fully forgiving their past.
When the Pharisees looked at Matthew all they could see was his guilty past. When Simon saw the woman with
the alabaster box bowing at the feet of Jesus, all he could see was her past. They were so focused upon the
sins of the individual that they could see nothing else. Jesus saw them with forgiving eyes.
He accepted Matthew because He forgave Matthew's past. Whatever compromises and indiscretions Matthew
had been guilty of were forgiven. He accepted the unclean woman in Simon's house because He forgave her.
Whatever wrongs she may have done, they were forgiven. There is no sin that can't be forgiven. Because there
is no sin, except the unpardonable, that cannot be forgiven, there is no sinner that cannot be accepted. Jesus
saw every sinner as someone who could be forgiven and thus could be accepted. It was His accepting sinners
on the basis of their having been forgiven that became so offensive to His critics. They thought that He was
treating sin too lightly, but Jesus was able to see the sinner apart from his sin.
2. He accepted them for what they would become.
When Jesus found Matthew sitting in his seat of custom, Jesus invited him to become a follower. He invited him
to become a follower because of the fact that he could be forgiven and on the basis of what he could become.
Jesus saw that Matthew the tax collector could become Matthew the apostle. Jesus saw that Matthew, who kept
the tax ledgers of Capernaum, could become the chronicler of the gospel itself. Think of how poor we would be
if Jesus had not invited Matthew to become a disciple. If He had not accepted Matthew, our Bible might be short
one of its gospels.
I am not sure what became of the life of the woman who invaded the dinner party at Simon's house. If we knew
the whole story I am confident that we would know the story to be one of a transformed life. We would know it to
be one where a woman with an ugly and dirty past became a useful citizen of the community. She became a part
of that kingdom of love that Jesus was establishing upon the earth.
There are almost 2,000 years of Christian history in which Jesus has continued to be the Friend of sinners.
This little incident in the gospel of Luke gives hope to all of us who know ourselves to be sinners. When our sins
bring us to the deepest sense of despair, we find great hope in knowing that Jesus is the friend of sinners. He
offers to sinners unconditional love, full forgiveness, blessed acceptance, a wonderful new life, hope of eternal
life, and heaven itself. What a friend we have in Jesus!
However, this little text in Luke's gospel also speaks encouragement to us. Jesus is our model in these
relationships. Instead of modeling our lives after the hard-hearted, critical Pharisees, we are to model our lives
after the compassionate, caring, Friend of sinners. We are to relate to those who have broken the rules like
Jesus related to Matthew. We are to extend to those whose lives have become offensive the same forgiveness
that Jesus gave to the woman in Simon's house. We, too, are to be the friend of sinners.
It is my burden across these coming months that we will feel the responsibility of going out into this world where
so many have given up hope and be a friend. Our friendship will have as its objective that of bringing these who
need Him into the friendship of the true Friend of sinners. It may well be that it will be our friendship that will
enable them to know His friendship. When they know His friendship then, they will know His forgiveness and life
eternal. What an opportunity we have to be the friend of sinners on the behalf of the Friend of sinners!