The picture of Jesus in the Gospels indicates that he was harsh with religious believers who looked down on the common people, whom they called sinners. In fact, Jesus loved ‘sinners’ and spent much of his time and energy with them. What kind of ‘sinners’ and common people did Jesus embrace? The Gospel of John gives us an idea:
- Those drinking wine at a party (chapter 2)
- Socially despised heretics, including a woman who was a bit loose in her sexual relationships (chapter 3)
- A woman caught in the very act of adultery (chapter 8)
- A blind man who was said to be steeped in sin at birth (chapter 9)
- One who failed Jesus in his time of greatest difficulty (chapters 18 and 21)
The Gospel of Luke adds others:
- A leper—Jesus actually touched him! (chapter 5)
- The seriously ill and deformed (chapters 5, 6, and 13)
- Collaborators with the enemy government—not just simple tax collectors (chapters 5 and 19)
- An enemy government officer (chapter 7)
- A woman who lived a sinful life (chapter 7)
- A naked, mentally ill man who was thought to have a multitude of demons (chapter 8)
- A beggar (chapter 18)
- A condemned criminal (chapter 23)
The religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, complained routinely whenever Jesus associated with these ‘sinners’. They had no time for those who were so hopeless. In fact, Jesus accused the religious ones of making life even harder for these ‘sinners’ than it already was, ‘Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.’ (Luke, chapter 11)
Jesus, on the other hand, said to these ‘sinners’, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,’ (Matthew, chapter 11). Jesus was intent on relieving people of religious baggage and was angry that the religious leaders were, instead, adding baggage.
If Jesus were to visit us today, what kinds of ‘sinners’ might he embrace? Here are a few possibilities:
- Drug addicts and drunks
- Atheists and agnostics
- The tattooed
- The mentally ill
- The homeless, dirty, and disadvantaged
- Discouraged church people who have given up their faith
How do we, as religious leaders and followers of Jesus, think of these ‘sinners’? Too often, we ignore them, rebuke them, or even hate them. Instead of embracing them as Jesus does, we draw lines between us and them. To be acceptable, or even approachable, they must believe certain doctrines and adhere to detailed behavioral codes—they are ‘sinners’. We impose a lot of religious baggage.
Jesus did not come to judge sinners. Rather, he came to give us rest and loosen our burdens. I believe that if Jesus were living among us today, he would be somewhat harsh with many of us, just as he was in his own day. But remember that Jesus is also loving, accepting, and inclusive. Judgmental religious believers are simply another class of sinner that needs rest from burdens.
Does this mean that behavior doesn’t matter? Of course behavior matters, but not in the way we usually think. We will discuss this next time.
A question for you—what do you think of sinners today? Leave a comment below.