There is an interesting misconception prevalent throughout the world that we should love the sinner, but hate the sin. There is no place in the scriptures that this is written. In fact, the person who said it was the Catholic saint, St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to "With love for mankind and hatred of sins." The phrase has become more famous as "love the sinner but hate the sin" or "hate the sin and not the sinner" (the latter appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).
In fact, Christ had an interesting way of handling the sinners. He ate with them, and never called them out as being sinners.
For instance, in Mark 2:15-17.
Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Christ never said, “Hey look at me over here eating with the sinners.” He didn’t put out a sign or segregate the room saying “sinners eat here.” He never said there was anything wrong with knowing or eating with sinners.
It was the Pharisees who had a problem with the sinners. What Christ said was, “A healthy person doesn’t need a doctor. Likewise, a perfect person doesn’t need a Savior.”
Which makes me wonder – am I a sinner or a Pharisee?
In the story of the ten lepers we learn of the ten that were sent to cleanse themselves and be healed, and how only one returned to show thanks. Have you ever noticed that Christ didn’t condemn or punish or say something negative about the other nine? They were still healed. He didn’t take the blessings back when they failed to live up to expectations.
When the woman found Jesus eating in the Pharisee’s house, and washed his feet with her tears and hair, it wasn’t Christ that called her out as a sinner. It was the Pharisee. In fact the Pharisee said, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”
Some people take away from that story that Christ let the sinner woman serve him. That part is easy for me to accept. Christ set the example over and over again of loving the sinner.
What I find it interesting he was eating in the home of a Pharisee. Jesus was eating with one of his worst critics. One of the very people that would ultimately lead to His crucifixion.
That’s another interesting point. The Pharisees thought they knew everything and believed themselves to be righteous people. But they were the ones who crucified and condemned the son of God. Not the so-called sinners.
Again, I wonder, am I a sinner or a Pharisee?
We are all sinners. The Church is full of people who make mistakes. People will offend us daily. We will each sin today, yesterday, and tomorrow. And so will the person sitting next to us. It’s just a fact of life that no one is perfect. Alice in Wonderland may have believed six impossible things before breakfast, but the truth is, I sinned six times before breakfast. Probably. I wasn’t counting.
Knowing that someone is imperfect is no reason to withhold our love from our fellow Saints, neighbors, family, or friends. If Christ can eat with the Pharisees, and other sinners, we can surely show kindness to the sinners and offenders in our lives.
In our ranks, every day, there is someone who doesn’t come to church on Sunday, because they don’t feel loved by someone there. Whether or not the offense was ever intentional, doesn’t mean it wasn’t felt. Someone who believes in the gospel is afraid to come to church because they don’t feel loved.
How sad is that?
Are you showing enough love and forgiveness to everyone around you that every sinner can feel welcome in a house of worship?
In October 2006, Elder Bednar rather famously gave a General Conference talk entitled, “And Nothing Shall Offend Them.” In it he said, “When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.”
He went on to say, “we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.”
There is a popular meme going around the internet right now that says, “Not going to church because there are hypocrites there is like not going to the gym because there are out of shape people there.” The church and the world are filled with imperfect people. Actually, that’s not true. The church isn’t full of imperfect people. There is always room for one more.
I can’t help but think of a line from a Billy Joel song, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints.” And while I know that line is meant to be flippant, he accidentally got it right. I’d rather laugh with the sinners, and let them know they are loved, than cry with the saints over the fact that there are sinners in this world. After all, there is no record of Jesus gathering his disciples around him to cry for the sinners*.
Back over Easter I saw another interesting meme on Facebook. It was regarding the Holy Week leading up to Easter. It was a bit tongue in cheek, and yet very on point. It said, “If you really want to live like Christ did leading up to Easter, remember he spent that week overthrowing tables in the temple.”
Let’s go back to this concept of how to love sinners.
12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Christ ate and communed and walked and talked with sinners. But he did not let anyone make a mockery of the temple, the house of the Lord and prayer.
What I take away from this is that we all make mistakes, and the Lord will love us, and help heal us. But there is a line that you cannot cross, and that line is making a mockery of the word and house of the Lord.
Do you love and laugh with the sinners? Do you “cry with the saints?” Or are you a Pharisee that points out the sinners and sins of the world? Do you eat with the Pharisees in your life?
I’m going to make a more concerted effort to be Christ-like by loving the sinners and eating with (and forgiving) the Pharisees. If Jesus could eat in the home of his critics and condemners, I can learn to be more tolerant, forgiving, and accepting as well.
*I respectfully exclude the Garden of Gethsemane, which was a very different cry and prayer.