Tag Archives: sinners

questions of motivation

Jesus’s “lack of moral principles.” He sat at meals with publicans and sinners, he consorted with harlots. Did he do this to obtain their votes? Or did he think that, he could convert them with such “appeasement”? Or was his humanity rich and deep enough to make contact, even with them, with that in human nature which is in common to all men, indestructible, and upon which the future must be built? — Dag Hammarskjöld in Markings

Jesus demonstrated a radical disregard for the social and religious mores of his day. He ignored social boundaries and appeared completely at home with those normally shunned by the  “respectable class.”

Hammarskjöld asks us to ponder the motivation behind this seemingly calculated behavior. Why did Jesus appear to be far more comfortable with the dregs of society than with those who publicly professed the correct religious beliefs of his day?

Jesus didn’t ignore those with prestige, power and wealth. But it’s this class that were consistently the target of his harshest criticism. Why?

Could it be because, as he said, that those who are well don’t need a doctor? Could it be that the self-righteous who know they are on the right track would be too blind to accept the help they actually need?  Or, might it be that Jesus just demonstrated that the message of God’s love finds far more receptivity with those whose need is the greatest?

nourished on the blood of sinners

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (1924–2006) was a clergyman and long-time peace activist. Ordained in the Presbyterian church, he later received ministerial standing in the United Church of Christ. He was an athlete, a talented pianist, a CIA agent, and later chaplain at Yale, where the influence of Reinhold Niebuhr’s social philosophy led him to become a leader in the civil rights and peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He went on to serve as Senior Minister at the Riverside Church in New York and President of SANE/Freeze (now Peace Action), the nation’s largest peace and justice group.

Coffin prominently opposed United States military interventions in conflicts such as Vietnam up to the Iraq War. He was also an ardent supporter of gay rights.

In his book, The Courage to Love he wrote:

The temptation to moralize is strong; it is emotionally satisfying to have enemies rather than problems, to seek out culprits rather than flaws in the system. God knows it is emotionally satisfying to be righteous with that righteousness that nourishes itself on the blood of sinners. But God also knows that what is emotionally satisfying can be spiritually devastating. 

Pointing a finger is far easier and far more emotionally satisfying than offering understanding and having the courage to search out the root causes of social ills. Many among us even blame the poor for their poverty rather than search for the flaws in system that perpetuates their poverty.

The growing number of poor and the hungry in our country are not our enemies. They are the living and suffering symptoms of a flawed and spiritually devastating economic system that we refuse to address.

With less self-righteousness and  more courage to love we might come to a place where we are willing to look at the system rather than just continue pointing our fingers. Until then, however, we just continue to be nourished on the blood of sinners.