Those who Jesus spent his time with were the very ones the Pharisees sought to avoid. It’s easy to pass judgment on the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, thinking we would never act as repulsively as them.
Jesus did heal the physically ill, but ultimately he came to heal the spiritually ill. Jesus performed miracles on the sick to symbolize how he alone is able to perform a miracle on the sinful. The mission field for all of us, if we are followers of Jesus, is not ultimately the physically sick, but the spiritually sinful.
And, like the Pharisees, these are often the very people we so easily disdain the most. Sinful people do just that – they sin. Sin always hurts and lashes out at anyone in its path. When people sin against us, it is all too easy to feel justified in our hatred, disdain, and annoyance of them. When our boss is rude or speaks to us in a way we feel is offensive, we come home and complain to our spouses about him or her. When our in-laws become pushy in their dealings with us, we gripe and gossip about them. Even those we love most, like our own children, eventually hurt us, and thus we can even grow cold and calloused towards them.
And yet Jesus teaches us that sinners are the mission. It’s easier to help a homeless person than it is to love your spouse who has sinned against you. The only way we will be able to keep our hearts open to sinful people, which is everyone, is to see them not only as a stranger, a friend, a sibling, a child, or a spouse, but to see them as the mission. Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Therefore, the next time you are ready to bash someone who is stuck in sin because they are offensive, annoying, or just plain rude, ask yourself these questions: Would you complain about a crippled person? Would you laugh at a leper? Would you disdain someone tormented by demons? Would you kick dirt in the face of a blind man? Would you throw your extra food out in the presence of a hungry family? Would you close the doors to the emergency room to a trauma victim? No Christian would ever do any of these things.
We must see those who offend us just as we see people with earthly hardships like poverty, sickness, or loss. Just as a homeless person desperately needs the help you can give, sinners who lash out at you are in desperate need of an encounter with Jesus that you can help them have. Offenses are opportunities to show the grace of God to someone. Sin should be seen as a disease attacking the sinner. When we separate their sinful illness from the person God desires them to be, we can look past their offensive sins towards us and love them as we ought, for loving sinners is our mission.
In Matthew 18:15-19, Jesus lays out the proper protocol on how to handle the situation when someone sins against you. One very important point to note in these verses is that Jesus instructs the person who was sinned against to go and lovingly confront the person who sinned. You would think Jesus would place all the responsibility for reconciliation on the shoulders of the offender. But he doesn’t. Jesus expects us to love one another the way that he loves us. When we run from Jesus, he goes out and looks for us (Luke 15). Jesus knows sinful people are the mission.
We too must not only forgive those who sin against us, we must go out of our way to try and bring them back home to God. And if they don’t listen and they continue in their sinfulness, we must let them go and we must remove our presence from them so they might come to their sense and repent (1 Corinthians 5:5). But even then our heart can’t grow callous. Just because someone in poverty won’t accept the paying job you offer them does not mean you should then attack them or hate them. Likewise, when people offend us, their sin only reminds us of how badly they need Jesus. We can’t grow bitter. Sinners (like ourselves) need our love, support, and prayers – not our complaints.
It is totally impossible to love this recklessly in our own human strength when people offend us. But all things are possible with God. Jesus came to seek after the lost, and now we too, even after they hurt us, are called to do the same.