Jesus, "Friend of Sinners"

Author: Pope John Paul II

Jesus, "friend of sinners," man in solidarity with all men

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 10 February 1988, the Holy Father  reflected on how Jesus Christ, though Himself sinless, was none the less "a friend of publicans and sinners."

1. Jesus Christ , true man, is "like us in all things except sin . " This has been the theme of the preceding catechesis. Sin is essentially excluded from Him who, being true man, is also true God ("verus homo", but not "merus homo").

The whole earthly life of Christ and the whole development of his mission bear witness to the truth of his absolute impeccability . He himself launched the challenge: "Which of you will convict me of sin?" ( Jn 8, 46). A "sinless" man, Jesus Christ, throughout his life, struggles with sin and with all that sin engenders, beginning with Satan, who is the "father of lies" in human history "from the beginning" ( see Jn 8, 44). This struggle is already outlined at the beginning of the messianic mission of Jesus, at the moment of temptation (cf. Mk 1, 13; Mt 4, 1-11; Lk 4, 1-13), and reaches its culmination in the cross and in the resurrection. Fight that, finally, ends with victory.

2. This fight against sin and its roots does not distance Jesus from man. Quite the contrary, it brings him closer to men , to each man. In his earthly life, Jesus used to show himself particularly close to those who , in the eyes of others, passed for sinners . We can see this in many passages of the Gospel.

3. Under this aspect, the "comparison" that Jesus makes between himself and John the Baptist is important. Jesus says: " Because John came , who neither ate nor drank, and they say: He is possessed by the devil. The Son of man came , eating and drinking, and they say: He is an eater and drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners " ( Mt 11, 18-19).

The "controversial" character of these words is evident against those who previously criticized John the Baptist, a solitary prophet and severe ascetic who lived and baptized on the banks of the Jordan, and later criticize Jesus because he moves and acts in the midst of the people. But it is equally transparent, in the light of these words, the truth about the way of being, of feeling, of behaving Jesus towards sinners.

4. They accused him of being "a friend of publicans (that is, of tax collectors, of ill fame, hated and considered non-observant: cf. Mt 5, 46; 9, 11; 18, 17) and sinners". Jesus does not radically reject this judgment, the truth of which —even with all collusion and reluctance excluded— appears confirmed in many episodes recorded by the Gospel. Thus, for example, the episode concerning the chief publican of Jericho, Zacchaeus, to whose house Jesus, as it were, invited himself: " Zacchaeus, come down quickly— Zacchaeus, being small in stature, was perched on a tree to better see Jesus when he passed by—because today I will stay at your house". And when the tax collector came down full of joy, and offered Jesus the hospitality of his own houseHe heard Jesus say to him: "Today health has come to your house, because he is also a son of Abraham, for the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost" (cf. Lk 19, 1- 10). From this text we can deduce not only the familiarity of Jesus with publicans and sinners, but also the reason why Jesus sought them out and dealt with them: his salvation.

5. A similar event is linked to the name of Levi , son of Alphaeus. The episode is all the more significant since this man, whom Jesus had seen "sitting at the tax counter", was called to be one of the Apostles : "Follow me", Jesus had told him. And he, getting up, followed him. His name appears in the list of the Twelve as Matthew and we know that he is the author of one of the Gospels. The Evangelist Mark says that Jesus "was reclining at table in his house" and that "many publicans and sinners were reclining with Jesus and with his disciples" (cf. Mc2, 13-15). Also in this case "the scribes of the sect of the Pharisees" presented their complaints to the disciples; but Jesus told them: "The healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick; nor have I come to call the righteous, but sinners" ( Mk 2, 17).

6. Sitting at table with others—including "tax collectors and sinners"—is a way of being human, noticeable in Jesus from the beginning of his messianic activity. Indeed, one of the first occasions on which He manifested his messianic power was during the wedding banquet at Cana in Galilee, which he attended accompanied by his Mother and her disciples (cf. Jn 2, 1- 12). But also later Jesus used to accept invitations to the table not only from the "tax collectors", but also from the "Pharisees" , who were his fiercest opponents. Let's see it, for example, in Luke: "A Pharisee invited him to eat with him, and going into his house, he reclined at table" ( Lk 7, 36).

7. During this meal an event takes place that sheds yet new light on Jesus' behavior towards poor humanity, made up of so many "sinners", despised and condemned by those who consider themselves "just". Behold, a woman known in the city as a sinner was among those present and, weeping, she kissed the feet of Jesus and anointed them with perfumed oil. A conversation then begins between Jesus and the master of the house, during which Jesus establishes an essential link between the remission of sins and love inspired by faith: "...her many sins are forgiven, because He loved much... And to her he said: Your sins are forgiven you... Your faith has saved you, go in peace!" (cf. Lk 7, 36-50).

8. It is not the only case of this genre. There is another that, in a certain way, is dramatic: it is that of "a woman caught in adultery" (cf. Jn 8, 1-11). This event, like the previous one, also explains in what sense Jesus was "a friend of publicans and sinners." He says to the woman: "Go and sin no more" ( Jn 8, 11). He, who was "like us in everything except sin", showed himself close to sinners and sinners to remove sin from them . But he viewed this messianic end in a completely "new" way with respect to the rigor with which "sinners" were treated by those who judged them on the basis of the old Law., by virtue of the deep solidarity, which he nourished in himself, with the one who had been created by God in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1, 27; 5, 1).

9. What does this solidarity consist of? It is the manifestation of love that has its source in God himself. The Son of God has come into the world to reveal this love. He reveals it already by the very fact of becoming a man : one like us. This union with us in humanity on the part of Jesus Christ, true man , is the fundamental expression of his solidarity with every man, because he speaks eloquently of the love with which God himself has loved each and every one of us. Love is reconfirmed here in a very particular way : The one who loves wants to share everything with the beloved .. Precisely for this reason the Son of God becomes man. Isaiah had foretold of Him: "He took our infirmities and bore our infirmities" ( Mt 8, 17; cf. Is 53, 4). In this way, Jesus shares with each son and daughter of the human race the same existential condition. And in this He also reveals the essential dignity of man : of each one and of all. It can be said that the Incarnation is an ineffable "revaluation" of man and humanity.

10. This "love-solidarity" stands out in the whole life and earthly mission of the Son of Man in relation, above all, to those who suffer under the weight of any type of physical or moral misery. At the apex of his path will be "the giving of his own life for the ransom of many" (cf. Mk 10, 45): the redemptive sacrifice of the cross. But, along the path that leads to this supreme sacrifice, the entire life of Jesus is a multiform manifestation of his solidarity with man , summed up in these words: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" ( Mc10, 45). He was a child like any human child. He worked with his own hands alongside Joseph of Nazareth, in the same way that other men work (cf. Laborem Exercens , 26). He was a son of Israel, he participated in the culture, tradition, hope and suffering of his people. He also knew what often happens in the lives of men called to a certain mission: the misunderstanding and even the betrayal of one of those whom He had chosen as his Apostles and successors; and for this he also felt deep pain (cf. Jn 13, 21).

And when the moment approached when he was to "give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20, 28), he voluntarily offered himself (cf. Jn 10, 18), thus consummating the mystery of his solidarity in the sacrifice . The Roman governor, to define him before the assembled accusers, found no other word except these: "There you have the man" ( Jn 19, 5).

This word from a pagan, unaware of the mystery, but not insensitive to the fascination that emerged from Jesus even at that time, says everything about the human reality of Christ: Jesus is the man; a true man who, similar to us in everything except sin, has become a victim for sin and in solidarity with everyone until death on the cross.

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