Jesus did not make a habit of hanging around the “best” crowds. He was frequently seen with sinners of all sorts. He did not gather these sinners together to judge and scold them. He did not organize protests and rallies to call out their sinful ways. Certainly He did not agree with their actions. But rather than judging, discriminating, scolding, and ignoring these people, He chose a different method. One that drew sinners to Him, rather than chasing them away.
When Zacchaeus, a known tax collector, learned that Jesus was coming, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:4-5) Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus! There was something that pulled him to go make a fool of himself and climb a tree just to get a better look!
“And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” Luke 7:37-38 This woman was not obligated to go see Jesus. There was something that drew her to Him. Something in what she had heard about Him that made her need to go to Him.
What is that something that drew these people to Jesus? What was it that made them actively seek Him out? It was love.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them,they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” John 8:3-11
Jesus did not condemn, nor did He approve of the actions of this woman. He knew she had sinned and did not ignore that fact. But He did not start out by lecturing her while the others watched. He looked on her with mercy and showed her love first. Then, after she had seen the love that He had for her, He tells her “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
What if, when presented with an adulterous woman, He shamed her and brought the people together to rally against her? What if, upon seeing Zacchaeus up in the tree, He first lectured on the terrible sins this tax collector had committed? What if, when the woman brought the alabaster jar to Him, He first berated her for her terrible life? I doubt that these sinners and countless others like them would have sought out the Lord if this was how they were treated.
Zacchaeus may have stayed up in that tree out of shame. The woman with the jar of ointment would have been embarrassed and probably would feel silly for thinking this man would see past her sins. The adulterous woman likely would have been stoned. And I am betting that none of them would change their lifestyle. Why would they change their way of life if it seemed they were too far gone for mercy?
Back in July, Pope Francis was questioned on homosexuality and famously replied, “Who am I to judge?” The media jumped all over this. But why is this so shocking? Pope Francis has not changed any Church doctrine. And he won’t. The teachings of Christ and His Church are not meant to conform to the ways of man. Rather, they are to remain constant despite the changing world around us.
What made his response so striking is that was vastly different in tone than the attitude presented by many Christians in our world today. We have lost sight of what it is Christ is calling us to do: love. This does not mean we need to conform and give in to things we disagree with. We are not called to change our beliefs. But we can change our focus.
I know I am a sinner. I do not want to be judged because of mistakes I have made and continue to make. Although I have sinned, I know that there is something far greater than sin. It is the love of Jesus Christ whose endless grace and mercy forgives all my sins. He died for all of our sins. It is through His everlasting love that we have true joy and true peace.
When we see sin in those around us, let us remember to look at ourselves before we judge. Rather than focusing on the faults of others, let us instead focus on showing love to everyone, even those we disagree with. By showing love, mercy, and forgiveness first, we can inspire others to seek Jesus and His mercy. We are not perfect, but we are loved. And we are called to do the same. Not to judge, but to love.
“Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8