They were criticizing Jesus for spending time with lost people… they called them “publicans and sinners” (Luke 15). Verse 2 says: “And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eats with them.” They couldn’t tolerate the idea that sinners were His priority. It was incongruent that non-believers could receive more attention than believers.
Jesus answers their criticism with three parables:
i. The parable of the one lost sheep where the shepherd leaves 99 in order to reach one.
ii. The parable of the lady who lost a coin where she ignored the 9 she had in order to find the 1 that was lost
iii. The parable of prodigal where the father gives his attention to the lost son and creates animosity on the part of the brother who stayed home.
The one major teaching of this chapter is that lost people should be a priority. Jesus was teaching his critics that spending time with “publicans and sinners” was the right thing to do. He would not cave to their murmuring.
We may be tempted to be critical of the Pharisees but we might be guilty of the same attitude. Our lack of evangelism immediately betrays the fact that lost people are not a priority. It may also show up in more subtle ways like our attitude toward unbelievers. Sometimes it may be as blatant outright dislike or hatred for the ungodly. Other times it may be a frown when someone walks into our church meeting that doesn’t look, dress or smell like us. You can evaluate yourself by answering this simple question: “how long has it been since you spent time with lost people” (Not at work but in a social situation)? How long since you had a meal or coffee with an unbeliever. Jesus ate meals with “publicans and sinners.” How about you?