“Sinners” in Luke 6

“Sinners” in Luke 6 September 17, 2003

In Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6, he contrasts the behavior of His disciples with that of “sinners” in a series of three point. Sinners love those who love themselves, but Jesus’ disciples must love enemies. Sinners do good only to those who do good to them, but Jesus’ disciples must do good to enemies without any hope for good in return. Sinners lend only to those who can repay, but Jesus’ disciples must lend without expecting return.

Who are these “sinners”? Given the fact that Matthew’s version of this sermon contrasts the behavior of the disciples with that of “scribes and Pharisees,” and given that Jesus is giving this sermon just at the time (in Luke) when the scribes and Pharisees are intensifying their opposition to Him, it seems reasonable that Jesus is talking about the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders under the heading of “sinners.”

Think of the rhetorical effect here: Crowds are listening, and they hear Jesus say, “Sinners only love those who love them,” and the people say, “Hey, that’s what we do! He’s saying we’re sinners.” And think also of how powerful the effect would be on Pharisees. Jesus is reshuffling and redefining the categories that the Pharisees themselves use, and including them under the heading of “sinners.”

In the next chapter, Jesus Himself states the charge that’s been brought against Him, that He is a glutton and drunkard, a “friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (7:34). In the very next scene, Jesus is eating with a Pharisee at the Pharisee’s home. A friend of “sinners” indeed.

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