The Scandalous Welcome of Jesus

By Mark D. Roberts

October 12, 2021

Scripture – Luke 15:1-2 (NRSV)

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”


Jesus got in trouble with the religious elites because he welcomed into his life people the elites considered to be “sinners.” Are we willing to welcome into our lives people who don’t live up to our expectations? Will we welcome those with whom we disagree about lifestyles or politics? Are we open to imitating the scandalous welcome of Jesus?

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.


The first verse of today’s passage from Luke is surprising if you stop to think about it. After all, Jesus was known to be a holy man. He preached a demanding message, calling people to turn from their past lives and live under the reign of God. Given these facts about Jesus and his activity, you might think that the religious people would have hung out with him while the non-religious would have avoided him like the plague.

But the opposite was true. Luke tells us that “tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him” (15:1). And not just a handful of tax collectors and other notorious sinners, but “all the tax collectors and sinners.”

The fact that these folks flocked to Jesus bothered the religious elites. “The Pharisees and the scribes,” Luke tells us, “were grumbling” with disapproval (15:2). They were not only bothered, however, by the fact that sinful people were gathering around Jesus. It was Jesus’s posture toward these people that was particularly offensive. They complained that Jesus actually “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). What he did was truly scandalous, in their view.

In the culture of Jesus, welcoming people meant opening your home, even your life to them. Sharing a meal with someone was a powerful symbolic gesture of acceptance and relationship. So, from the perspective of the religious elites, it was bad enough that Jesus went to the homes of the tax collectors and sinners in order to eat with them. But he even welcomed them into his own “home,” wherever that may have been, given that Jesus was traveling most of the time.

As I reflect on this short passage from Luke, I wonder whether I’m more like Jesus or more like his critics. Do I welcome people I don’t necessarily like? Am I generous to those with whom I disagree? Do I extend myself in love to people whose lifestyles I don’t approve of? Would anybody accuse me of welcoming today’s version of “tax collectors and sinners”? Or would I be seen playing the role of the Pharisees and scribes?

What, I wonder, helps us to be more like Jesus, to welcome and share life with “sinners”? Perhaps the most compelling answer I can think of is the simple fact that Jesus welcomes me into his presence. In spite of my own penchant for sin, in spite of my tendency toward judgmentalism, in spite of all the ways my heart can be hard toward others, Jesus welcomes me. He even invites me to his table, not because I’m got my act together, but because his grace is greater than my sin. The more I reflect on how Jesus welcomes me, the more I am encouraged and empowered to extend this kind of welcome to others.


Do you know Christ-followers who welcome our equivalent of “tax collectors and sinners”?

Are you one of those Christ-followers? If so, why? If not, why not?

Are there certain kinds of people you find it hard to welcome? Perhaps people whose lifestyles bug you? Or people whose politics offend you? Or . . . ? How might you welcome these people into your life?

Are you willing to ask the Lord to help you be more like him in the matter of welcoming “tax collectors and sinners”?


Think about how you can imitate the welcome of Jesus this week, and then, by God’s grace, do it.


Lord Jesus, first of all, I thank you for welcoming me into your life. I may not be a notorious sinner, but I certainly have a penchant for sinning. If you weren’t open to sinners, I’d be completely out of luck. But even as you welcomed “sinners” to your table, so you have welcomed me into your life, your kingdom, and your table. Thank you!

Help me, Lord, to be more like you. Help me to put aside my judgment and prejudice. May I learn to welcome others into my life. May I show them the same kind of grace that you have shown me. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Following the God of the “Lost and Found”

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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