No one could rightly accuse Jesus of having low standards. But he was accused in his day of being “a friend of sinners.”
Religious leaders of the lakeshore community of Capernaum, for instance, would have criticized Jesus if he had befriended the kind of people who once lived on the shores of the Dead Sea, at the southern border of their promised land.
Yet, the rabbi from “the other side of the tracks” was bold in defending his compassion. According to the Gospel writer Matthew, Jesus said, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” (Matt 11:23-24; Luke 4:31-41).
Later, an apostle of Jesus by the name of Paul expressed a similar thought in his letter to the Romans. He wrote about a world that fell into same sex relationships after turning its back on it’s Creator. But like Jesus, Paul’s focus didn’t stop there. He went on to give a long list of sins that included greed, envy, and gossip. Then he added, “You may be saying, ‘What terrible people you have been talking about!’ But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things.” (Rom 1:18-2:2).
Jesus and Paul both saw more than the sins that are near the center of our own culture wars. Together their teaching aligned with the prophet Ezekiel who reminded the holy city of Jerusalem that a real assessment of the sins of Sodom included, “(a) pride, (b) overeating, (c) idleness, (d) a lack of concern for the poor and … (e) the wrongs for which Sodom and Gomorrah are remembered (Ezek 16:49-50).
I long for the wisdom and attitudes of Jesus. I’m convinced his way of seeing the world could transform not only the way I look at the wrongs of others, but also what I see in the mirror. I want to spend the rest of my life trying to learn from the one who said, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
So, now, let me ask you, if Jesus were to walk into our town, and into our churches, the way he walked into Capernaum, and her synagogue, what do you think he would see and want to talk about?