6-9-16 - Who Needs Saving?

Recently someone said to me, “I think Bill Clinton has the morals of a snake, but he was a very good president.” To which I replied, “I think Bill Clinton has the morals of a man who knows he is a sinner in need of redemption.” All the best saints know that they are as sinful as the next person; that’s why they make so much room for the Holy Spirit in their lives. (And perhaps Bill has to make lots of room!)

Some Episcopalians no longer wish to use the language of salvation when it comes to their Christian faith. They don’t recognize any risk from which they need to be rescued. I wonder if such people feel a need for God’s forgiveness? Or are they are so locked into “I am a good person” mode, they cannot see how irrelevant such a claim is from the viewpoint of God’s holiness.

That contrast is on display in this week’s gospel story. We have the Pharisee, who is so sure of his own rectitude, he can afford to condemn his uninvited guest and pass judgement on Jesus. And we have the woman herself, “sin-sick,” bearing no illusions whatsoever about the immorality of many of her life choices, offering herself for healing with abject humility.

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus scandalized the company in several ways, by allowing this woman to come so close to him, not pushing her away; and by presuming to declare her sins forgiven. Anyone can forgive a wrong done to him or her; but what kind of person goes around forgiving sins against God? The religious leaders disapproved; yet their reaction only caused Jesus to double down. In addition to the promise of forgiveness, he declared this woman healed and saved. That is eternal healing.

How do we feel when we see someone who is a notorious sinner receive forgiveness? It’s very hard for those who feel God’s favor is something to be earned. Such people are quick to condemn others – often for select sorts of sins, like sexual immorality, while they ignore sins of economic injustice. For people like this, it only sinks in when something brings home how deep their own need for forgiveness is. When we understand the consequence of unforgiven sin – estrangement from God and our fellow creatures – we become more ready to embrace the hope of salvation. Addicts in recovery understand this; those of us with less obvious failings often have a harder time getting there.

I heard a great quote from Richard Rohr this week: “God does not love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good. That changes everything.” We are never good enough; yet God has declared us holy through Christ. Simul justus et peccator, Luther put it. As we receive that grace, we are better able to go in peace.

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