And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”
What is a sinner?
This seems to be such an ugly word—and for good reason. It has a lot of negative connotations—and for good reason. We want to quickly get rid of this label; the church and the world alike want to shed this title over our lives. Who wants to feel like they are constantly falling short? Who wants to be labeled in such a negative way? Right from Genesis as humans we have been trying to cover up this identity. We know something is wrong. The first humans knew right away something was not right, and ever since we have known that we lost something very valuable.
For the most part we have misunderstood the meaning of the word ‘sinner’. We have mostly heard or assumed that it’s referring to our depraved state, a moral falling, an evil that lives inside of us. In Luke 15, Pharisees complain that Jesus is welcoming sinners and eating with them. What is Jesus essentially doing? He is connecting and building relationship with sinners. Sin is essentially our broken state of relationship with God. To be a sinner is to not be in relationship with God. The overflow result might be moral failures and wrong living that in turn continue to break down our relationship with God, but these are symptoms of sin not the core of the issue. A sinner to the Pharisees was a Jew who did not follow the law. For Jesus a sinner was anyone who did not have relationship with Him and that was, well, everyone. It wasn’t some but all of humanity in this boat. In His wisdom and love, He went to those who religion had labelled sinners or tax collectors because they were the ones who were ostracized and most hated by society. Jesus wasn’t saying those are the only ones who need Him—because everyone needs Him—but rather revealing the difference between our love and His Love. He happily connected and dined with those we thought sinners. But you never hear Him saying the word ‘sinners’, although they were. Instead you see Him revealing salvation.
So humans are sinners, but we weren’t called to live in disconnection to God. So humans in Him are no longer sinners because sinners are those that don’t have relationship with God—which was everyone until Jesus entered the scene and changed the possibilities forever.
Because we weren’t in relationship with Him much of who we are as humans has been lost. But Jesus came to save that which was lost. A lost humanity was being found.
Lost in a biblical sense means being headed toward destruction. A sheep that’s lost is in a vulnerable position of potential destruction—not because the shepherd doesn’t value the sheep—but simply because of the lack of proximity, or we could say relationship, to the shepherd who can care for and protect the sheep.
Jesus did not come to condemn us as His sheep but to find us, to protect us, to care for us, to bring us back into the beauty of this relationship. He was finding the lost sheep.
Found through a story.
Found through a death.
Found through a resurrection.
The greatest rescue message ever launched was underway.
Sinners were being reconnected. Sinners were becoming human again.