The Advantage of Sinning
June 17, 2007
Is there an advantage to sinning? I know this is a scandalous question, but it is the issue that Jesus discusses in today’s gospel. Therefore, since it is a potentially dangerous question, let’s clarify a few things at once. We all know that we are called to avoid sin because sin is an offense against God and against our neighbor. To follow Christ, we are called to holiness. This is both obvious and understandable. Yet it would be important to keep these truths in mind as we look at today’s gospel, because in the gospel Jesus takes our notions of sin and twists them into a creative new insight—an insight which is for our benefit.
What happens in the gospel? Jesus is eating in a friend’s house, in the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman who is a notorious sinner comes and begins to minister to him. In his mind Simon questions why Jesus is allowing this woman to touch him. So Jesus tells the parable. A man had two debtors. One owed him ten times more than the other, and yet he forgave them both. “Which one”, Jesus says, “will love him more?” And Simon rightly responds: “The one who is forgiven more.”
What Jesus does in this parable is reveal to us a truth about God and about our sinfulness. When we sin, that failure can lead to repentance. If we ask God for forgiveness, God will never refuse us. If we accept God’s forgiveness, it will increase our appreciation and our love for God. If that is true, then the one who sins more and is forgiven more, will have a greater appreciation and love of God. So Jesus, in a clever way, presents an advantage to sinning. If sin can lead to repentance and to forgiveness and if forgiveness leads to love, then the one who sins more, will love more. Now, this parable is certainly not asking us to sin, but it is telling us that no one understands the love of God more deeply than the sinner who is forgiven. And no one can grasp the depth of God’s love more than the sinner who has sinned greatly.
Why would Jesus bring this truth to our attention? He wants us to live differently. He wants us to live with more caution and more hope. If what Jesus says about sin and love is true, we should be cautious about judging the sinfulness others. We might correctly say that this or that person is selfish, unjust, and violent. All those things could be true, but sin need not be the end of the story. It is possible that sin could lead to repentance and God’s forgiveness. Such forgiveness could then lead to a deeper love of God. Forgiven adulterers, slanderers, thieves, and bigots know God’s love better than anyone else. They might have a deeper relationship to God than we do. We should be cautious about judging them.
We should also be hopeful. We should be hopeful when we sin. Not that we should encourage sin, but sin, if it leads to forgiveness, can actually increase our love of God. In this sense, even our mistakes can lead us forward. When we recognize and repent from the way we have mistreated others, from the way we have rashly judged others, from the words that we have said that we cannot take back, from the poor decisions which we have made and cannot erase–we need not despair. When we repent of our sins, we can have hope, because God will forgive us and our love for God can grow.
So today, Jesus asks us to be cautious about judging others and to be hopeful when we are ourselves sin. Sinfulness need not be the end of the story. God in God’s gracious forgiveness, can turn our sinfulness into love. And since that is true, as scandalous as it is: The one who sins little, will love little. But the one who sins greatly will love more. +