“Jesus said, Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” (Luke 13:2-3)
Why do we always have to set up a pecking order? Like children walking out to the playground, or Junior High kids in gym class, we walk in the room and immediately start sizing everyone else up. I’m better than that person. Oh, that person over there is pretty good. Do I fit in with this crowd? Do I measure up? Can I compete? It’s childish, we all know it is, but for some reason we all do it on some level. We do it in work, with job applications or for promotions. We do it in school, parents meetings, and community organizations. We even do it at church, or at least with spiritual things.
Of course, we would all agree that sins don’t have levels. All sins are the same. All are guilty and fallen short of the glory of God. There is not one righteous, not even one. We quote the verses so we obviously believe them to be true…correct?
However, remember our past. After 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina, after the earthquakes in Haiti, religious leaders got on tv, and in their communities, and declared each of these is the result of sin. God is punishing unfaithfulness.
We hear these comparisons, and we shudder. How could anyone think that natural disasters or terrorist attacks are the result of God’s punishment? Do you really think that somehow those who suffered are worse sinners than the rest of us? That’s not the way God works. There is no one righteous, not even one. For all of sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
And yet…we do live with different levels of sin.
If someone commits adultery, we look upon them in shame. They have broken a covenant. They have fractured trust. They have hurt their family and friends. There are serious consequences to their actions.
However, someone else is prideful. While we may not always like to be around them and may consider them arrogant, we would probably not expect them to confess their sin seeking repentance.
Why? Is adultery worse than pride? Is one sin worse than another? Yes, there are varying consequences, but are there different levels.
This is not the only example, there are various sins or vices that depending on our political leanings we would place within this struggle. Abortion, same-sex attraction, income inequality, care for the foreigner, the use or non-use of violence, environmentalism: depending on where we stand, some of these are horrible sins, while others are not that big of a deal. And yet, for most of us: pride, lust, envy, gossip…these sins barely move the meter. Even within our advance society, even within our grace filled community, we struggle with levels of sins.
Perhaps we need to hear the words of Jesus now more than ever. Do you think that these who suffered were worse sinners than any of the others living in these times? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
We need to hear these words, not to beat us down and cause us to wallow in our own sin. Not because we are worthless creatures.
No, we need to hear these words as a reminder that there is good that comes from living a life of repentance. There is good that comes from being honest and admitting mistakes. There is good that comes when we practice confession and repentance. There is good that comes when we name our sins; our sins of adultery and addiction as well as our sins of gossip and pride. Not just going forward for prayers as an altar call. But searching our hearts through self-reflection, and then confessing our sins to a trusted friend who models God’s love and forgiveness to us in flesh and blood.
A life of repentance is more than we are sinners but God loves us anyway. It’s a recognition that my sins, no matter what level I place them at, my sins are very real and have pulled me away from God. They have separated me from the good life I was created to lead. However, it’s also a recognition that new life is coming; resurrection is coming. I may have sins, but my sins will not keep me in the grave. The cross is real, but the resurrection is real as well. And we will never appreciate the new life in the resurrection until we fully recognize the death our sins caused, and continue to cause now. Ultimately, repentance leads to the good life God imagined for us. A life that produces fruit for the Kingdom.