In the days of Jesus, there was a lot of public opinion regarding tax collectors. Tax collectors were known in biblical times as sinners because they imposed severe taxes and they confiscated property. In essence, they oppressed people. So yes, according to Webster’s dictionary they were sinners. They did something wrong in accordance with religious and/or moral law. Leaders of the day didn’t like that Jesus often welcomed these sinners, but when he also sat down and ate a meal with them, there was pure outrage! We discover a lot of tension with the Pharisees over the behavior of Jesus right from the start of his public ministry. The Pharisees preferred things to go their way. They wanted control of religious thought and practice. But Jesus constantly challenged that, and therefore, the two “sides” didn’t really get along. The Pharisees claimed it was a sin to eat with sinners, and tax collectors were considered sinners. But Jesus ate with them. What does that tell us about the emotions and standards of humanity verses faith in a God that offers and empowers so much more of us? Jesus used parables to teach, they were short metaphorical stories to challenge and enhance both moral and spiritual fulfillment. In one such parable, Luke 15:1-7, Jesus takes on the issue of shunning sinners. Using a shepherd and a sheep, something the people of Jesus’ day would fully comprehend, Jesus suggests that if even 1 sheep out of 99 is missing, we might go and search for it, find it, lift it up upon our shoulders, bring it home, announce the reunion to your community, and then celebrate. Jesus reveals God, and Jesus goes out of his way for sinners.
I doubt anyone would deny that the sinners of our day would be the terrorists of 9/11 and the abductor/sex offender/murderer in the Wetterling case. They have oppressed people, and by oppression moral and religious law is broken. There is no way around it, terrorists and pedophiles are lost. Somehow, they have been corrupted, their understanding of human dignity is tainted. How? I don’t know. But I’m fairly confident they didn’t wake up one morning and decide out of the blue to go and violate their neighbors. They were led to these actions - be it distorted opinions, mental illness, or horrendous life experiences. These people weren’t born lost, they were born into a world charged with their care – and the world has somehow failed them.
So, believe me…. the last thing I want to say is that terrorists or pedophiles deserve grace. I have blurted out my fair share of harsh words. Those are my raw human emotions, and my emotions are disconnected from my faith. There is a painstakingly large gap between our profession that every life matters and our hate and discrimination against those who do what we believe is wrong. It certainly doesn’t make sense. Come on, they killed over 3,000 people! How is that not wrong?! It is wrong, and God takes what is wrong, what is defiled, what is unjust, and makes it good. And that’s exactly why it’s called faith. It’s something to believe will happen, something to work towards, something to hope for, something so much greater than our own human experience.
Imagine our world if we lived like Jesus? If we searched for the lost and picked them up in order to bring them home and celebrate their transformation – just imagine! My emotions show me that I am angry and sad over the choices of others, but my faith challenges me to work a little harder and show others a better choice.