Previously I have quoted a question raised by Pope Benedict--a question which needed to be asked for a very long time: “Has the Church misinterpreted Jesus?” Even to ask the question is healthy, and to wonder in what ways Christians have not grasped the intentions of their professed Master seems salutary, and may become fruitful in the long term. The way to knowledge ever passes through awareness of one’s ignorance. According to the picture of Judaism we learn in the New Testament, the religion was preoccupied with sin, and especially with actions thought to be contrary to the teaching of the elders, to Moses as interpreted by rabbis, or simply to common practice. So we may wonder, “Did Jesus’ contemporaries read into Jesus their own preoccupation with sin? Or, is it possible that Jesus was in fact less focused on sin and on particular sins than one would believe from the pages of the Gospels?”
Even if--as I would consider likely--Jesus said words such as “My son, your sins are forgiven you,” are not those words intended to get one’s mind off of his failings and sins, and step forward courageously into life with a heart and mind renewed? The Pharisees dwelt on sins, and had a darkened view of reality. Jesus’ vision, as far as I can see, was filled with the light of God’s love and grace breaking in: “The Kingdom of God is Now.” Truly, he often would turn his hearers away from sin, as in “Repent and believe in gospel.” But he does not say, “Go and dwell on all the wrong you have ever done.” Indeed, “if your eye is dark, how great is the darkness.” Those who dwell on sin, are who preoccupied with their own or others’ wrong-doing, have a dark eye, and hence darkness within.
I am not suggesting that one should be oblivious to his or her own shortcomings. But the Jesus presented in the canonical Gospels and in the letters of Paul is himself so filled with God’s love that he sees goodness; and where he encounters evil, he drives it out so that goodness may have free or at least freer reign in the human heart and mind. Christ, who is “the light of the world,” enlightens the world by turning the gaze of our minds from a preoccupation with evil or sickness or death towards the Presence and activity of the all-good God. This new awareness, new attitude, which must be lived from moment to moment, is an essential fruit of “the Reign of God.”
Let us put the matter differently: The reason to focus any attention on one’s sin is to renounce it and to live in the light of God’s goodness, and hence allowing the goodness of God’s Presence to well up in one’s soul. The reason to deal with sin or sickness or evil at all is to help a greater good come, but never to get absorbed in sin, evil, sickness, death. Christ is not naive or a “Pollyanna,” for “he knows what is in the human heart,” or that of which each of us is capable. Christ confronts evil, and even provokes it by his sheer goodness: “Those who do evil hate the light, and refuse to come to the light, lest their evil deeds be exposed.” And yet, the LORD sees sin, sickness, and death as opportunities for realizing the Kingdom of God, for “overcoming evil with good,” for making more present and active the sheer goodness of “the Father.”
Man is neither good nor bad existentially (as he exists here and now). Man is in-between. The work of Christ is to draw man away from badness and into goodness, out of sin into communion with God, out of death into life eternal. And eternal life means participation in the Life that we call “God.” Indeed, “I have come that you may have Life--Life abundantly.” To allow oneself to be preoccupied with sin, sickness, or death is to resist the movement into Life. Christ liberates from sin; he does not inundate in sin. Hence, the only reason for the Church to draw attention of people to sin is to help us to see it for what it is, and to embrace and to live in the reality of God.