(Lk. 15:2) “The scribes and the Pharisees murmured, saying, this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
The word “murmur” is alternatively translated as grumbling or complaining. In Scripture, it is used pejoratively and often relates to food, drink, and a disbelief in the purpose and plan of God. Not surprisingly, those who murmur receive much attention and they are usually wrong.
Following the Exodus from
At its heart, murmuring is a form of narcissism disguised with a religious venire. Murmuring is a petulant attitude about my food, my drink, my understanding of who God is and what he should be doing. In sharp contrast to murmuring, St. Peter in this morning’s Epistle exhorts us to humility before God, (1 Pet 5:7) to “cast all your care upon him: for he careth for you.”
(Lk. 15:2) But “The scribes and the Pharisees murmured, saying, this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
It is not difficult to make an argument from Scripture that one should not associate with people of poor character. The Psalmist tells us (Ps 1) that “Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners.” Similarly in Proverbs (1:10), “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Indeed, this is the wisdom we teach our vulnerable children as they are growing to maturity – that they should not associate with those who will be a bad influence upon them and potentially lead them astray. We protect them and ourselves by developing a fortress like mentality to shut out “sinners” and other undesirables. Very few of us want to socialize with them, share a meal with them, or invite them into our home.
The secular religion of our culture embraces the same theology – a tacit understanding that people cannot and do not change. No doubt you have heard that “a leopard cannot change its spots” or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” In stark contrast, an enduring symbol of Christianity is the butterfly. The ugly caterpillar is transformed into a new creature.
As Christians, we are called to reach out to those in this world who are in darkness and bring them into the light of God’s love, forgiveness and restoration.
“Jesus makes this same point in this morning’s Gospel. According to the writings of Edersheim, the Parable of the woman who made anxious search for her lost coin is almost a literal parallel from the Jewish Midrash that the scribes and Pharisees murmuring at Jesus would have been well acquainted.b In the Jewish Parable, the moral is that a man ought to take much greater pains in the study of the Torah than in the search for the coin, since the former procures an eternal reward, while the coin would, if found, at most only procure temporary enjoyment. Jesus, and the Gospel that he gave us, proclaims a worldview that shifts the focus from the benefits of inward study to the requirement of actively seeking out the lost, and the eternal joy of Heaven in their recovery. ”
To be sure, there is nothing wrong in the study of Torah or participating in the Bible studies of our day to learn more about God and draw closer to Him. Jesus is teaching the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all generations to follow, that the missiological component of the faith must not be ignored. Those who follow Christ are called to reach out and draw in those separated from God.
Repentance and reconciliation requires involvement with people who might not respond to an invitation the first time it is offered. That does not mean we are to stop trying. Following the sin of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, God did not walk away from humanity. The Scriptures chronicle God continually reaching out to His creation. He made covenants and promises first to Noah and then to Abraham and his descendents. God sent
God continued to reach out extending the invitation to repent and be reconciled with God. He sent his Son to be that good shepherd who would search out and find His lost sheep. And as He taught us, (
Sometimes there are members of our own family or community, who do not want the lost to return. Perhaps they are still in need of healing over past hurts the lost one has caused, or they refuse to believe the other person can or may have actually changed. They may have experienced many false starts, or failed attempts at reconciliation. But God never gives up on any of us. And he wishes us to continue to extend that invitation to others.
At each Eucharist, we are reminded that (1 Tim 1:15) “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Restoration is a work of mercy in which God allows us to participate. We are not responsible for the outcome of each individual attempt, but we are responsible to cooperate with His grace and continue to reach out to those who need assurance of His love and forgiveness.
May the Lord strengthen us in our witness to those in need of repentance and reconciliation with God. For (Lk. 15:10) “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
 Edersheim, A. (1896). Vol. 1: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (581).