Luke 15 is all about repentance V.2-3 Both the Pharisees and scribes began to grumble, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them". So He told them this parable...

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No, Jesus was not ironic here. He was teaching a basic principle: that God, as a loving Parent, cares deeply about those who have gone astray and welcomes them when they return. The attitude of this particular group of Pharisees had reversed God's priorities: righteousness is important, but a truly righteous person passionately shares God's desire to bring sinners to repentance.

Jesus also sought here to illustrate the difference between inner and outer righteousness. The grumblers mistakenly presumed that a person's inner standard might be sullied by receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus showed that a person of true integrity welcomes sinners and brings them to God.

The scene is reminiscent of the debate between the two major Pharisaic schools of the time, represented by the sages Hillel and Shammai. The following story is gleaned from the Talmud:

One famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!"

Jesus' teaching here echoed that of Hillel. He received sinners and attempted to bring them to God. Also like Hillel, Jesus was unconcerned that others might consider him undignified or lacking in nobility. His priority was to bring people to God, as opposed to standing on legal or social ceremony.

In the passage described in the OP, Jesus echoed the attitude of generous-spirited Rabbi Hillel, while the grumblers demonstrated the strict legalism associated with Rabbi Shammai. A basic principle was at stake, which was debated not only between Jesus and "the Pharisees" but also between the two major schools of Pharisees. Jesus was not being ironic.



What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? (Luke 15:4)

And Jesus reclassifies the ninety-nine sheep, left by him in the desert:

I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

This narration could never have been confused with the parable of the good shepherd in the Gospel of John and, in fact, it was a millennial error of interpretation.

And we know that the "righteous" in their own eyes do not need a shepherd, so they are left in the deserts as if they were wolves.

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