Sin is a loaded word. It is in our day, and it certainly was in Jesus’ day.
Sin is loaded because it is usually used to demean others and make ourselves feel better about who and what we are.
“I go to church so I’m better than people who don’t.” “I have more money and nicer things, so God loves me more than God loves poor people.”
The concept of sin is used most by religious leaders, today and in first-century Palestine. Take for example, Luke 7:36-50; Simon, a member of the largest group of religious leaders in first-century Judaism — a Pharisee — calls an unnamed woman “sinner.” Simon’s implication is that she is not good enough to be in his home; that her attention to Jesus is unseemly and downright wrong. Everyone else in Simon’s home is a better person, more worthy than that “sinner” woman is.
Jesus will have none of it. He chastises Simon, saying, “Those who understand the depth of their sin and comprehend the vastness of God’s forgiveness express their overflowing gratitude just as this ‘sinning’ woman has.”
We all long to have worth, to feel valued, but when we pursue that worth and value by demeaning others, we only demean and devalue ourselves as well. Jesus teaches us that God loves everyone, and there are absolutely no exceptions. God doesn’t love smart people more or wealthy people better. Those who are ill or suffering or struggling have not been cursed by God. Time and again, Jesus teaches us that God loves us equally. There is no “better than” or “more important than” in God’s economy.
Some people are smarter. Some people are wealthier. Some people have more things. Being smarter, wealthier or better off only gives us more responsibility in God’s world — not bragging rights.
What about the people who are poor, sick, struggling? I don’t know about you, but I have had times of being poor or sick or struggling in my lifetime of 56 years, and I expect to live through more of the same before I die. Jesus came in human form to show us the vulnerability of being human and to teach us the life-giving work of sharing, of gratitude, of being present.
The toughest sin there is in this world — the sin Jesus fought against, taught against and ranted in opposition of over and over again — is the sin of thinking yourself better than others and making others feel less than you in return. The truth is, Simon the religious leader was in as great a need of forgiveness as the “sinning” woman he sneered at and rejected. He was so busy thinking better of himself he didn’t realize how much forgiveness he needed.
Brenda Clark is pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Bellefonte. She can be reached at pastor .firstname.lastname@example.org.