In light of all that has been said and done in the moments leading up to this statement on the lips of these people (Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them---sinners broadly defined as those that stand outside the group of covenant members), one cannot help but imagine that those hearing the telling of this Gospel would find themselves laughing. It is almost as if this statement demands to be read as a punch-line, in which the Pharisees and the experts in the law are presented as unfortunate dupes. Indeed, it almost seems as if Luke wants his audience to reach the conclusion that there is a group that is not quite getting it, even though Jesus is attempting to make things as obvious as He possibly can.
This most definitely serves to de-legitimate the role of these men. Not only could they not answer Jesus’ simple questions, but now, even though Jesus has made things as simple as possible---offering a parable about a banquet, a directive about banquets, and then another parable about a banquet, Luke demonstrates that the point has been completely missed by these men, as they go right back to what was presented as one of their earliest accusatory attempts at discrediting Jesus.
If can be recalled that, in the fifth chapter, Luke employs his second use of the phrase “experts in the law” (5:30), which accompanied their complaint that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners (5:30). That, of course, was at a banquet given for Jesus (5:29). When one is carefully attuned to the fact that this is an ongoing narrative, and that there is a certain structure and flow to Luke’s presentation (which makes sense in light of the fact that it is a dramatic presentation designed to be consumed in a single sitting), it would probably not be a mistake to surmise that Luke’s words of the fifteenth chapter are intended to cause a recall of scene of chapter five.
Considering this then, it should be noted that the fourteenth chapter began with a mention of experts in the law and Pharisees (Temple representatives), moved on to a question posed by Jesus, and concludes (in terms of the chapter divisions) with a healing. The movement of the fourteenth chapter actually concludes with the fifteenth chapter’s opening complaint that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In chapter five, Jesus forgives sins (a Temple function), the audience learns about hostile thoughts and questioning on the part of the experts in the law and the Pharisees (a question), and then comes a healing by Jesus. From there, Luke moves to the complaint about with whom Jesus is eating. Within a culture that is accustomed to listening to stories, holding ideas together over extended tellings, and processing information accordingly, this bracketing structure would not be lost on Luke’s audience.
This complaint about Jesus’ table companions comes to be voiced on a regular basis. It is a relatively prominent feature of the Gospel portraits of Jesus. Considering the importance of the meal table in that day and time, this fact should go a long, long way towards informing an observer about a major thrust of Jesus’ ministry (table fellowship), along with informing that same observer about a major focal point of the early church and the oral traditions about Jesus (table fellowship), with these given considerable weight by His crucifixion and Resurrection, as those oral traditions are eventually codified as the Gospels. In consideration of this, it is important to not overlook an instance of the use of “experts in the law” leading up to its use in the twentieth chapter, which could lead to overlooking a usage that will serve to provide enlightenment as the way in which Luke is pushing his hearers to react and respond to such usage.