I was reading Mark 2:13-17, the pre-selected passage in my morning devotional. Jesus is walking along, sees Levi who is a tax collector for the Roman government (therefore a traitor to his people, the Jews, who are oppressed by Rome and their taxation), and invites Levi to follow him. Levi does, and Jesus joins him for dinner, along with “many tax collectors and sinners.” The seriously religious people of his day (they really cared about following the Torah) are very critical of his behavior. Jesus explains that he is there for those in need and not for those who have it all together. Suddenly I found myself glad to call myself a “sinner.”
But I don’t like the word “sin” or “sinner”! They have often been used by people who see themselves positively while naming some other group as terrible, to be avoided and excluded. The words make me think about being bad through and through and experiencing low self-esteem and life-denying shame—nothing to be glad about.
Yet as I listened and found myself in the Mark story, seeing myself as sinner felt strangely liberating. I didn’t have to be better than others, to hold myself above the “fallen.” I felt free simply to be human, to be me with the strengths and weaknesses that come with the package. Knowing myself as sinner allows me to let go of the childhood sibling-rivalry-induced need to be at least as good as anybody else—to follow all the rules just right. In this story of Jesus, as a sinner I know I am loved for who I am, not for what I can accomplish, how virtuous I am, or how well I can be on the “right side.”
It is okay to need a physician. In truth, all of us do, but we don’t always know that. I am one with all others. Humility, compassion, care arise. As I get older and experience diminishments, I needn’t fear. Those losses can be opportunities for grace—provided that I know with Jesus I am a sinner, a beloved child of God.
In what way might you need to be healed?
Who are the people you would criticize Jesus for eating with?
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
For further reflection:
“When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly . . . while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (See Romans 5: 1-8).
“‘If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her’” (See John 8: 3-11).