Why Jesus would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints – Luke 5:27-39

Last week I introduced this past Sunday’s sermon with a game of Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition.  We had a lot of fun playing the game live in worship on Sunday.

I wanted to play Don’t Forget the Lyrics – Billy Joel Edition because of some lines from his song “Only The Good Die Young”:  “I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints.”  In our next passage studying the Gospel of Luke, we discovered Jesus doing just that!  Take a look at Luke 5:27-39 and you’ll see what I mean.


“I’d rather laugh with the sinners…” Did you see Jesus laughing it up with the sinners! Levi (Matthew) the tax collector throws a party in Jesus’ honor, and it is filled with people who the religious establishment, and pretty much everyone else, considers sinners! And Jesus is right there in the middle of it.

“…than cry with the saints.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law are outside watching him. These so-called saints are there crying their eyes out as they look inside. But note that they don’t confront Jesus! Instead they ask his disciples: “Why are you eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?”

And when the Pharisees question the disciples, I can see those disciples getting sick in the stomach, armpits start sweating and they clam up.  These are religious big-wigs!  They might pull out their wooden rulers and slap the disciples on the wrist.

The Disciples don’t answer. But Jesus does. I love that! I don’t know for certain that the Pharisees and disciples were on the outside of the house, on the veranda, or inside. But what Luke does confirm is that Jesus answers.

He uses a medical metaphor that a doctor is not for healthy people, but for sick! He explains what he means: he came not for the righteous, but sinners to repent. Though he is more than willing to laugh with sinners, he also calls them to repent. God has a heart for sinners! God loves even the despised tax collector, the prostitute, the homosexual, and you and me.  But in love, he calls them to repent. To repent is to lead a lifestyle of repentance.  To repent is to change.

When we follow Jesus as disciples, our lives should be changing. You should be able to look at your life and see how you have changed. Praise God that he loves us sinners and that all of us have the opportunity to be his disciples, but that doesn’t mean we can take his love for granted, or disrespect it. He loves us and wants us to follow him so that we can change! So that we can stop sinning and begin to live the wonderful life, the far better life, as one of his followers!

So for Jesus to focus on sinners to repent is a radical move. Where the Pharisees saw sinners as people who could infect them, Jesus saw the sinners as people who could have a renewal of heart, who could change.  He goes to the sinners. He goes their party. But in the middle of that, he calls them to change.

In verse 33 the Pharisees question Jesus about this, “There are other people or groups that have disciples, like ours, and those disciples practice fasting and prayer.  What’s the deal with you and your disciples partying with sinners?” Basically they’re saying, “Our disciples are more spiritual than your disciples!” And they have a point, one that we would probably use. We look to prayer and fasting as deeply important to the life of disciples. Spiritual disciplines are important! Shouldn’t Jesus respond by saying “Aw man, you got me. I’ve been really screwing up in leading my disciples. I’m sorry Pharisees. Come on boys, let’s scram. We shouldn’t have been partying it up with the sinners. My bad. I promise, Pharisees, we’ll never do that again. Serious. I swear by the name of me.”?

Nope. He didn’t say that. Instead, it’s another surprise. In verses 34-35 he now uses a wedding metaphor. When the bridegroom is there, it’s party time! We know this in our culture too. When the bride and groom leave the reception, pretty much the party’s over, right? We all go home, sometimes quite sad that it is over. I remember some friends’ wedding where I did not want that party to stop!  They eventually wanted it to, but I didn’t.

So basically Jesus is saying to these leaders, “Chill out guys. God loves sinners, and he is calling sinners to repent, and you know what? Look at what God is doing in Matthew’s life! We should throw a party about that! A sinner, a tax collector has said that he is leaving behind his tax collecting to follow me!”

There was good reason to celebrate!  Jesus doesn’t avoid sinners. He mixes it up with them. But in the midst of the party, he calls them to repentance. Matthew would go on to be changed.

In our day, we have to be very very careful that we are not like the Pharisees. We need to call sinners to repent, but it might look very different than what we’re used to. In fact, it should look different.   I believe we are coming through a period where much of the methodology of the church resembles the method of the Pharisees rather than that of Jesus. The church for too long wanted to people to clean up their act, and then come to church. Jesus, however, says I am coming to you, to where you are, right in the middle of your mess, and I am going to party with you, and I am going to call you to repent of your sin.

Seriously, that’s a bit mind-blowing isn’t it?

If there is sin in your life, Jesus says that you need to call it sin and repent; you need to change. The tax collector had to leave his life of cheating and stealing. Levi did just that. And guess what? He went on to write one of the books of the Bible! Amazing!

What if Jesus would have passed Levi by, saying “Disgusting…I hate those tax collectors…they’re sinners, I’m not going near them because they sicken me with their cheating. And I don’t want them to pollute me.”

Imagine Levi running after Jesus and saying “I’ve been listening to your sermons, Jesus, and I’ve seen your miraculous healings, and I want to change my life…I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life, I want to throw a party for you!” After hearing that, what if Jesus responds and says “A party? Are you serious? I don’t party. Who do you think I am? A sinner like you and your friends? You’ve got the wrong idea about following me, buddy. If you want to follow me, get down on your knees right now and start praying and fasting.”

But praise the Lord, Jesus is NOT like that.  Praise the Lord, Jesus meets us where we are and calls us to become new people.

  1. This affects us. Jesus meets us where we are. But he doesn’t say that we can stay where we are. We change to be like him. What sin do you need to call sin and repent of and change?
  2. This affects others. Just as Jesus met us where we are, we should follow his example and meet people where they are. Who are the sinners in your life that need Jesus that you need to go to and love and party with?

Which Jesus will we be like? The one who laughs with the sinners or the one who cries with the saints?

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

8 thoughts on “Why Jesus would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints – Luke 5:27-39

  1. Love the sinners but hate the sin. I think we have two issues here. One is that Mr. Joel has a deep-seated issue with the Catholic Church, much like the singer who labeled herself ‘Madonna’. This is straight forward anti Catholic behavior. The other issue is the misinterpretation of the song by this website in its application to Sacred Scripture. The point of our Lord eating and drinking with the sinners and tax collectors was to #1 show mercy and #2 bring them back into the fold. This is never shown more clearly than in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
    Eric Hahn

    1. Thanks for commenting Eric. My interpretation of Jesus partying at Levi’s house had no intent of addressing the Catholic Church. As you’ll see if you read through my posts, there are certainly ways in which I disagree with the Catholic Church, but I attempt to do so with great respect. I also have great affection for the Catholic Church in many ways. Further, it seems to me that your comment about the point of our Lord eating and drinking with sinners to show mercy and bring them back into the fold is pretty much the same thing I said in the post. I was not trying to say the Billy Joel’s song is a Christian song. Instead I am using the song to try to reach people who might agree with the song. To them I say “Give Jesus another look. He might be more appealing than you think. For example, here’s a story where he partied with ‘sinners’. But in so doing he called those sinners to a different life, his life.” Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

      1. Dear Sir,
        It sounds like your heart is in the right place. In my analysis of fallen away Catholics, who comprise the 2nd largest religious group in the USA, a primary reason for their falling away is preaching a watered-down faith which came about as a mis-implementation of the Second Vatican Council in the late 60s, 70s, 80s and part of the 90s. A setback which is only recently being corrected by strong faith-filled priests being produced in Seminaries and a very strong lay movement comprised of many zealous converts to Catholicism much like Saul’s conversion to Saint Paul. How I wish we Christians were united in Christ in his one body, the Church. He desired this and indeed agonized over it in the garden before his passion. The garden where we first fell is the garden where our Savior begins our redemption. In the end this is about healing.
        God bless.

      2. Agreed! Amen! Have you ever heard of John Armstrong’s book Your Church Is Too Small? Excellent work on the need for unity.

      3. I have definitely heard of Armstrong’s “YourChurchIsToSmall” and have a lot of respect for this work. He is on such a good course but still lacks the faith that the Church Christ said would prevail to the end is still here. He believes, like so many Protestants, that the Church split in the Middle Ages and the one true Church ceased to exist in it’s visible, concrete way. But this would negate Christ’s promise or worse it would say his perceived promise until the end of time died when Peter died. Too many miracles and joy-filled martyrs have willingly given up their lives for that option to be true. I personally have received too many consolations from God within the context of my Catholic faith to ever doubt. At this point for me to doubt would be to deny not only my conscience but my senses as well.
        Also read CalledtoCommunion.com A Catholic Reflection on John Armstrong’s Your Church is too Small.

      4. Thanks so much for the link. I’ve only had time so far for a quick scan, and it seems excellent. I mostly looked at what he felt were disagreements with Armstrong’s book. Very interesting. I’m always amazed how people with hearts for the Lord can view things so differently.

        I guess some of that main points of disagreement are about the visible unity of the church versus the spiritual unity of the church. For example, in my local township, we have a ministerium that is quite active. Nearly half of all the churches in our area participate, which is good, though admittedly we’d like to get a lot closer to 100% participation. But the churches are varied denominationally. To me it seems like our ministerium meetings and combined efforts are a physical representation of the unity of the body of Christ, and at the same time it is okay to have different denominations with varied viewpoints on matters of theology and practice. We still love one another and work together. That said, I would love for more of the visible unity.

  2. Left to ourselves we are surely lost. We need an anchor. We need a sure interpreter of Sacred Scripture that when they speak like Peter did everyone listens and is obedient because they recognize in him the authority which was passed on to him by our Lord. We all are one family through Baptism in the Trinitarian formula but we, like so many families, have a mix of obedient, disobedient and ignorant children. We all have the Word thanks be to God but we don’t all have the Eucharist. We all need the menu AND the meal. The consuming of the lamb at the Passover was fulfilled in the consuming of the Lamb of God in both Word and Sacrament. “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood…” In the Passover you had to not only mark your door posts and lintels w the blood of the lamb but it was critical to consume – eat the lamb. Read the early Church Fathers especially Saint Augustine and Polycarp. Reading about the early Church is one of the biggest motivators for the conversion of former Protestant pastors to the Cathic Church. Also consider the 4 marks of the true Church: One, Holy, Catholic(universal) and Apostolic. There are several indisputable references to the physical eating and drinking of the body and blood of our Lord. Saint Paul even gives a severe warning to those who eat and drink unworthily; thus the reason the Church has Confession(Reconciliation/Penance).
    The Church has a reason for everything she does (see Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church) but this age prefers something easier. Obedience is severely lacking in this age and obedience is what Scripture repeatedly offers as an antidote to sin.
    The Church requires obedience and tempers justice with mercy. It’s a beautiful thing when we stop fighting our parents and instead cooperate out of love. A holy family is a happy family.
    Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. God bless.

  3. i like this. thanks. it was well written…but…”let’s scram”? haha. that made me laugh. so it was good and it was funny too 😀

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