Read­ing Time: 10 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Exod 32:7.11.13–14; Ps 5051; 1Tim 1:12–17; Luke 15:1–32)

True Repent­ance is that sav­ing grace wrought in the soul by the spir­it of God, whereby a sin­ner is made to see and be sens­ible of his sin, is grieved and humbled before God on account of it, not so much for the pun­ish­ment to which sin has made him liable, as that thereby God is dis­hon­oured and offen­ded, his laws viol­ated, and his own soul pol­luted and defiled; and this grief arises from love to God, and is accom­pan­ied with an hatred of sin, a fixed res­ol­u­tion to for­sake it, and expect­a­tion of favour and for­give­ness through the mer­its of Christ” (W. Calcott).


Luke chapter 14 ends with the fol­low­ing words: “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its salt­i­ness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Who­ever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Luke 14:34–35). It is a ref­er­ence to the con­di­tions of dis­ciple­ship. Such say­ing implies that if the con­di­tions of dis­ciple­ship as giv­en verses 26−27.33 are not met, the dis­ciples them­selves will equally become taste­less and worth­less just like the salt that has lost its taste­ful­ness. In the suc­cess­ive chapters, Jesus con­tin­ues to arouse much interest in many people due to his prac­tic­al, dir­ect and self­less teach­ings. After cla­ri­fy­ing things with the great crowd that accom­pan­ied or attemp­ted fol­low­ing him (cf. Luke 14:25), in this Sunday Gos­pel, sim­il­ar thing is repeated, though with a dif­fer­ent orientation.

Luke opens the fif­teenth chapter of the Gos­pel with two groups of people who clustered around Jesus with the inten­tion of listen­ing to him. Unlike the crowd of Luke 14:25, the Pub­lic­ans (Greek: telōnai) and Sin­ners (Greek: hama­rtōloi) of Luke 15:1 have spe­cif­ic motive for gath­er­ing around Jesus – to keep listen­ing to his admir­able, untra­di­tion­al and non-dog­mat­ic teach­ings. In Luke 15:2, we notice that such move was in fact, not appre­ci­ated by two self-acclaimed right­eous Jew­ish groups: the Phar­isees (Greek: phar­isaioi) and the Scribes (Greek: gram­mateis). But who were or who are these groups: the Pub­lic­ans; Sin­ners; the Phar­isees; and the Scribes?

The Publicans

In the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment, the Pub­lic­ans were tax col­lect­ors and rev­en­ue officers. They worked prin­cip­ally for the Roman gov­ern­ment. In col­lect­ing taxes from the people, they often resor­ted to extor­tion. This explains why they were not loved even by their own people (cf. Luke 19:8).


Gen­er­ally, a sin­ner is one who devi­ates from the path of vir­tue; one who viol­ates God’s will or law. In our con­text, that is, accord­ing to the Jew­ish con­cep­tion (and accord­ing to the con­tem­por­ary so-called ‘born-again’) a sin­ner is one who does not keep ortho­dox tra­di­tions and beha­viours. Some­times and in line with the Jew­ish teach­ing, sin­ners equally included non-Jews, the same way some people clas­si­fy as sin­ners those who do not reas­on, dress, speak, act or wor­ship and belong to the same faith as them. Those who failed to adhere to the Scribes’ inter­pret­a­tion of the Law were termed sin­ners. Sim­il­arly, sin­ners included pub­lic offend­ers and those who objec­ted to the obser­va­tion of the Phar­isees’ rigid law of pur­ity. Nat­ur­ally, the Jews had no love for these (pre­sumed) sin­ners (cf. Matt 5:46–47).

The Pharisees

They were the numer­ous and most power­ful sect of the Jews, fam­ous for their cere­mo­ni­al observ­ances, appar­ent sanc­tity of life, and rigid inter­pret­ers of the Law. They fre­quently con­tra­vened the spir­it of the Torah by their tra­di­tion­al inter­pret­a­tions and pre­cepts, to which they attrib­uted equal author­ity with the Hebrew Scrip­tures (cf. Matt 5:20; 12:2; 23:14). They were in fact, the sep­ar­ated ones, hence, holy. Along with the Torah, the Phar­isees also accep­ted as inspired and author­it­at­ive all the com­mand­ments stip­u­lated in the oral tra­di­tions and pre­served by the rab­bis. Jesus con­fron­ted them sev­er­ally and con­demned their reli­gious exter­n­al­ism and formality.

The Scribes

They were skilled in the Jew­ish Law, teach­ers and qual­i­fied inter­pret­ers of the Law (cf. Matt 2:4; 5:20). Jesus cri­ti­cised their non-involve­ment in what they taught. The mem­bers of this class included priests, people from prom­in­ent fam­il­ies, mer­chants, crafts­men and even pros­elytes. Their spe­cif­ic and fun­da­ment­al func­tion con­sisted in the pre­ser­va­tion of tra­di­tion and the inter­pret­a­tion and applic­a­tion of the Scrip­ture. They were highly regarded and respec­ted by people. Because of their con­stant con­tact with the Sac­red Writ­ings, the scribes were regarded as the offi­cial inter­pret­ers of the Law. They were addressed as “doc­tors of the Law” (cf. Luke 5:17; Acts 5:34) and as “rabbi” (cf. Matt 23:7). In the Gos­pel accord­ing to Mat­thew, Jesus acknow­ledged the form­al author­ity of the Scribes, but denounced the examples they set (cf. Matt 23:2–3).

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