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The Love of God in the Face of Human Sin
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is almost the catalogue of human sin and weakness. It shows the many ways we can act on our worst instincts. It shows envy, mob violence, intimate betrayal, mockery, self-interest, and negligence. These sins are bad enough when they are done amongst each other. But when we consider that these sins were levelled against our God, then they become all the more terrible. The crucifixion shows humanity at its worst.
And at the same time, when we consider Jesus’ reaction to the crucifixion, we see divinity in all its glory. Despite being confronted with all these terrible human sins, in Luke, Jesus forgives the whole human race. Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This statement shows how powerful is God’s love for the whole human race. It was for love that God assumed the human, and came to us down here on earth. And in his horrible crucifixion, God’s interest was still on the human race that He so loves. Jesus’ divinity was so manifest that the centurion guarding him said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”
As we go about our spiritual journey, we need to keep both these themes in mind. We need to be aware of human evil; and we need to be aware of Divine forgiveness. We can picture ourselves in the presence of Jesus Christ at any time, and measure ourselves against God’s divine forgiveness and our own shortcomings. To make this idea concrete, consider one of Jesus’ parables. In the parable about the sheep and the goats, Jesus says, “Whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me” (Matthew 31:40). We are each and every one of us God’s creation. And God lives in each of us. When we meet another person, we are meeting God in him or her. What we do to that person we are doing to God in that person. That is one way of noticing Jesus’ presence in our lives. But we can also see Jesus with us by means of an inner vision. We can picture Jesus with us as we go about our daily lives. Jesus is actually with us all the time. The only time there is separation between Him and us is when we fall away from His teachings. And even then, Jesus is still with us, it is us who distance ourselves from him in our own hearts. We can picture our union with Jesus when we are in a spiritually good space. We can see Jesus smiling on us, or we can picture ourselves resting our heads on Jesus’ breast as we read the Apostle John did. Then we can picture Jesus forgiving us when we do hurtful actions–or even actions that show an indifference to our neighbors–recalling that Jesus forgave the woman who wept over Him in Luke 7. She was called a sinful woman, and the Pharisee whom Jesus was dining with questioned Jesus allowing her to caress Him. But Jesus taught the Pharisee a lesson in forgiveness and love. Jesus told him,
Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much (Luke 7:44-47).
What forgives this woman are her tears and her love. I would imagine that she was aware of her status as a sinful woman, yet her love for Jesus changed her status completely. In order for us to be forgiven, I think that it is important for us to be aware of our own fallen nature. We need to be aware that at every moment of our lives, we need God’s love and forgiveness in order for us to find heaven’s joy. We need to remember that we do not have our spiritual gifts because of our own power. It is God’s Spirit in us that gives us our gifts. The love we have for others, the joy we have in our meditations about God, our own capacity to forgive others–these are all God in us. And should we be tempted to claim them as our own, we will lose them. Recognizing our utter dependence on God’s grace, as did the woman, is what will save us.
Do you think that you are capable of calling for Jesus’ crucifixion? Do you see yourself capable of being caught up in the spirit of a crowd and having your own feelings stirred up? Have your feelings of spite ever grown when you find yourself in a group of others who are also spiteful about someone? Are you capable of envy for those around you who are very good at what they do, particularly something that you do as well? Do you see yourself capable of turning your back on a friend when you are in a group of others who are talking him or her down? Do you see yourself capable of ignoring a problem you could solve simply because you didn’t want to bother with it? Maybe not. Maybe so.
These are some of the human weaknesses that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. It was envy that led the Pharisees to bring Jesus up on charges. It was the spirit of mob violence that called for His crucifixion. It was intimate betrayal that led Judas to hand Jesus over to the Pharisees. It was self-interest on the part of the Jewish leaders that saw Jesus as a threat to their own power. And it was negligence on the part of Pilate that caused him to wash his hands of the whole matter. Good Friday is a time for us to reflect on the ease with which we can fall away from Godliness, into the place of human sin and error. But we also have the promise that Jesus is always pulling for us, always forgiving us, always calling us back to Him. Though He suffered emotional betrayal and experienced the very worst that humanity is capable of, Jesus still forgave. Even though Peter denied knowing him out of fear, Jesus still called him to ministry after His resurrection. We may fall short of God’s ways. We may sin and display spiritual weaknesses. But we also may acknowledge it when we turn away and ask Jesus for His forgiveness. Like the sinful woman in Luke, when we acknowledge that we are capable of sin and that we have committed it in moments of weakness, we can still come to Jesus, who will never turn us away. In humility for what we may have done, what we are capable of doing without divine help, and what we can do with God’s help, we may come to Jesus and find love and forgiveness.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).