Each gospel referred to a group known in acceptable Jewish religious society as "the sinners." Religiously concerned Jews feared being classified as one of the "sinners." At least three views exist as to whom the "sinners" were. View one: "sinners" were Jewish people who refused to follow the Pharisees' strict guidelines. View two: "sinners" were those who chose to do evil and refused to repent. View three: "sinners" were those who opposed God's will [as defined by the person or group who considered these people to be "sinners"]. [Allen Black, The College Press NIV Commentary: Mark (College Press Publishing Company: 1995), p.71]
Some facts seem evident from statements made in the gospels. (1) The Jewish "sinners" were one of two groups [sinners and tax collectors] within first century Israel who were examples of ungodly people governed by evil. (2) Thus, "sinners" were Jews who [a] were not religious or [b] defied religious values and positions. They were accused of allowing evil to rule them. (3) "Sinners" were Jews who refused God's control of their lives. They rejected common religious practices. (4) "Sinners" were among the undesirables in Israel's religious society.
At times the judgments or evaluations of religious leaders placed someone in that group. At times the person's behavior placed him or her in that group. Sinners were unsuitable for social association in Israel. Properly religious people shunned them. See Matthew 9:10-13 and John 9:22. Such undesirables were denied involvement in synagogue activities, and synagogues occupied a central role in Jewish communities. Though the sinners were Jews, those who considered themselves "godly" and "committed" rejected them.
Another realization must "balance the scales." Likely, many of these people had no desire to be a part of the "Jewish mainstream religious establishments." (1) Every society has individuals who have no desire to be religious. That likely was true of some of the sinners. (2) Some likely were disgusted and "turned off" by religious leaders they could not and did not respect. If Jesus saw the Pharisees' and scribes' inconsistencies (Matthew 23), some of these people surely saw those inconsistencies. (3) Some likely enjoyed and valued the pleasures produced by evil conduct. (4) Some likely were enslaved to a sense of guilt. While many sinners likely felt rejected by religious society, it is likely many had little desire to be a part of Israel's religious establishments.
Jesus "connected" with these people because he was a compassionate person who forgave. He gave them hope. He declared God would accept them if they repented. That is why many of them associated with Jesus (Matthew 9:10) and listened to Jesus (Luke 15:1).
Christians must never forget that Jesus led "sinners" to repentance.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 1, Lesson 2
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