Friend of Sinners
We make much in our day of therapy and rehab, and the more practical and scientific ways we might treat someone. And if you want psychology as your science, upon which you will find recovery – by all means, heal thyself.
We likewise make mockery of the idea that people might be healed by spiritual intervention, or by prayer, or the like. Very well – some of this, in some way, is deserved.
But I read stories of people who were possessed, like people with autism combined with superpowers, to whom the Lord spoke a word and they were healed. This would not have been easy to fake, because those possessed had longstanding reputations; nor would it have been easy to pass off if he had not actually healed them. For one thing, the reputation would not have changed!
This is challenging for the modern mind, perhaps impossible to swallow. Indeed, some Christians who (ostensibly) accept the Resurrection are also quick to offer anachronistic explanations for exorcisms. Sure, a man could rise from the dead – they say – but let’s not have any talk of demons being expelled!
Let us set this aside. In addition to exorcism, Jesus encountered sinners and forgave them. What did this lead to?
Before we observe the consequences of forgiveness, consider again the modern approach. I’m not aware of anyone who thinks that human beings are perfect – certainly not morally perfect – and yet there is a strange tendency to discard the weight of moral guilt. It is almost seen as illegitimate, unhelpful, problematic.
I will say that, when I know I have done or said something wrong (or failed to do something good), I am not satisfied by someone saying, “Ah, don’t worry about it. Everyone does that!” Moreover, when I recognize my fault and apologize, I am not satisfied with, “No, no need to apologize!”
No, I want to apologize, I am compelled to apologize. I have done something which fractures reality, which breaks with the Good, which objectively harms somebody (or fails to do good for them). That break is real, it represents something lost. It cannot be dismissed as nothing.
This act or word – anything that is morally wrong – is what is meant by sin. If the word causes you to cringe, just think of it as a vocabulary word, as shorthand for that thing which you acknowledge as real: Morally wrong acts and words.
So all are sinners – since we are not perfect, and thus prone to committing immoral actions – and some are more conscious of this fact than others. And some are exceedingly conscious of it, they are stricken and afflicted by it, they cannot recover a moment’s happiness because of the weight of it.
Indeed, we might all be so stricken and heavy-laden, if we were perfectly conscious of our transgressions. It is one thing to wrong someone and have their forgiveness; it is another to do it over and over again, to hear your own apology ringing hollow after the fifth, the fifteenth, the twenty-fifth time. It is no less wrong, but we cannot bear all of that guilt, and we cannot continually make a perfect apology for it because we cannot account for the repeated injuries we inflict on the other person.
There is no one who has, at last, ceased sinning. There is no one who, suffering the sins of another, has finally redeemed that sinner by his forgiveness.
But the sinner’s heart, mind, and soul cry out for redemption. See:
One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Here we have not only the contrast – one who is acutely aware of her sins, and another who is ignorant of his own – but the satisfaction of a great human longing which nothing else could satisfy.
I call it a proof from strength because there is no one else powerful enough to do this. See the reaction – the people at table take for granted that a mere man cannot forgive sins. We humans are not in the proper role of authority. We are weak.
But the Lord is strong. The woman heard of his works, and recognized in him the presence of God. And she utterly prostrated herself before him, as a sign of her weakness, her inability to save herself from her own sins. (One can hardly imagine more abject prostration – she weeps, she cleans his feet with her hair, she pours out ointment like she wishes she could pour out her heart and soul).
And does he counsel her? Does he prescribe psychotropic drugs, does he tell her it was nothing, that she’s doing fine?
No. And no one else could do what he did next. The whole world could have stopped spinning, the Universe could have flashed out of existence, and no more power would be required than was exercised.
From a position of power and authority, he simply speaks, and it is done. He says she is forgiven,* and she is.
The proof is that the sufficiently conscious soul knows what great cost there is in sin, knows how great a fall it is from the perfection that was intended for us, and she can neither bear it nor find any earthly relief from it. This remains quite true today. But if this cost can be charged against a soul, there must be some way to pay it. If it is possible to fall from innocence, to have been there in the first place, then there must be some way to be redeemed. (Or else there is nothing to fight for, there is nothing to progress toward).
There is only one who could pay the cost and redeem the fallen – and this we call God.
*Some hear this story, and they hear this word – forgiven – and they hear it again. The first to alert them; the second to overwhelm them. Some souls are always hearing echoes of the Lord.