Luke 15:1, Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. (NKJV) During the Roman empire these tax collectors were called tax farmers, which were part of a corrupt governmental system.
Individuals were not taxed. Instead, the tax burden fell on the entire community as a whole, mainly because census taking was too difficult of a task in a time when technology was not as advanced as it is today. Ultimately, the responsibility to collect taxes fell on the governors at the time.
Governors did not collect taxes themselves but instead had tax farmers, aka publicans, collect the taxes from the citizens living in the province. Tax farmers would bid on the rights to collect taxes, which would hit the auction block every few years. The states were paid in advance of tax collection by the winning bidder, who would collect interest on the money paid up front since the prepayment was considered a legal loan by the law.
Since the tax farmer was collecting interest from Rome on the money put up front, the tax farmer was responsible for converting any property seized for taxes into cash. What fueled the deep sin of this profession was the fact that the tax farmer kept all profits above the winning bid amount plus all the interest earned. Fear of not breaking even fueled a desire for profit, which led to greed.
Tax farmers could make deals with anyone they wanted for less taxes in trade for cheaper goods that could be hoarded until a later time of shortage when the price could be gouged, causing less profit for producers, then, causing higher costs for citizens later. These tax farmers were also the money lenders who controlled the banks, and, when good hard working people fell on tough times, these tax farmers would loan the citizens money at higher than fair interest rates, compounding the pain of the average person with a limited supply of essential goods and a higher than fair price while the average person had to pay back high interest loans with the majority of the profits going to evil and not good.
Augustus was the Roman emperor who eliminated tax farming, yet, those in charge of the economy continued on through big business and money lending. Those who had the most cash were the main targets of tax farmers because cash is easier to control the masses with than is property, especially since no one really owns property anyway if one fails to pay yearly taxes on the property. So, now that we have a basis for why the tax collectors were so unpopular among the people, we can take a look at the sinners.
The word sinners comes from the Greek word hamartano, its verb form, which can mean a lot of different things; to be without a share in, to miss the mark, to err or to be mistaken, to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do or go wrong, to wander from the law of God, to violate God’s law or sin. In this verse, sinner is used as an adjective in masculine plural form.
These sinners were not just any sinners. These sinners claimed to be sinners and had no intention of changing. These sinners were believed to have no sacrifice worthy of their redemption. This took place on the Sabbath, which meant no one was working, and was the reason why the tax collectors were able to have time to hear Jesus preach. This also took place after Jesus left the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees, most likely comparable to Nicodemus. Jesus was invited to eat bread with the Pharisee on Sabbath (Luke 14:1) where Jesus said a few key truths that angered the Pharisees, which is why, in Luke 15:2, And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” (NKJV) The scribes were the interpreters of the law, basically lawyers, and the Pharisees made sure the scribes interpretation of the law was followed, making the Pharisees judges of the sinners.
While Jesus was at the home of the Pharisee, there was a man there who had dropsy. (Luke 14:2) Dropsy is swelling due to water retention, and could be caused by congestive heart failure. Jesus looked at the scribes and Pharisees and asked if it were legal to heal on the Sabbath but no one answered Him so Jesus healed the man. Then He asked them which one of them having a son or a cow who has fallen into a pit would not help either one on the Sabbath. (Luke 14:5) No one could give Jesus an answer.
Since Jesus was leaving the council speechless, He chose to tell them another parable, a parable about being invited to a wedding feast. (Luke 14:8) In my interpretation, Jesus is telling them not to presume how they are looked upon by others, judging another person’s thoughts by their own interpretation of how they perceive another person’s thinking to be inline with their own thinking. Pride within oneself may not be shared as reality with one who may favor another over the Pharisee, while, in contrast, one with humility may be looked upon with favor. This could also be a direct allusion to those who have eternal life and those who face eternal death, or even the rapture itself. (Luke 14:10-14) Sheep are blessed and goats are cursed. (Luke 14:15)
Jesus then tells a parable about how those who do not put Yahweh first could find themselves not worthy and the riches and the cares of this world could turn them into apostates. (Luke 14:16-24) Jesus is most likely talking directly to the Pharisees about their hearts all in one evil accord, just like in the desert with Moses where they fell into idol worship. Jesus then preaches on how His disciples love everyone and His disciples must bear his or her cross and come after Him. (Luke 14:26-27) Jesus then preaches about people, the salt of the earth, once it has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? (Luke 14:34)
People alone without God are nothing, having no flavor, even people in groups without God are nothing. People are nothing compared to God, who destroyed the tower of Babel and scattered everyone abroad, as Jesus alludes to in Luke 14:28-30, where Jesus could also be alluding to the spirit world knowing man is nothing without God. Man alone without God is not fit for the world the way God intended it to be, likewise, people should not be cast out by other people simply because those with power to cast people out agree with one accord as to the state of another person’s heart, thereby judging the person’s salvation. (Luke 14:35) There is not one Jesus cannot save.
The Pharisees, having heard all of this preaching by Jesus, were angry with Jesus as He spoke to the crowds of people on that Sabbath day. The Pharisees had invited Jesus to eat with them, yet, Jesus turns around and invites the very people the Pharisees think they are better than, to eat with Him. It had to feel like a slap in the face to those Pharisees full of pride as Jesus began to bruise their ego.
PART TWO COMING SOON…