Some sins are worse...
There's a sort of "party line" when it comes to sin that says, "sin is sin. It doesn't matter what form it takes, it's rebellion, death, darkness." The party line will quote Galatians and note that if someones stumbles in one point of the law, their failure is total. They'll explain, as I did this past Sunday, that "you can be in a cathedral or a brothel and be in rebellion towards God" implying that all sin is the same.
Um... not really. Yes, all sin is rooted in our rejecting of intimacy with our creator, our desire to go it on our own. Yes, all sin is destructive. But even a cursory reading of gospels indicates that Jesus was patient with some who were living in sin, while he raged against others, seemingly showing now mercy.
He's patient, for example, with sexual sin, as he reaches out to the woman in John 4 who's living with her lover after several failed marriages. Let's not forget the woman caught in adultery in John 8, or the woman busting into Simon's party.
He also seems patient with shady tax dealings, though in His case the shady figure with whom he's dealing isn't a tax evader, but an IRS agent. Violence? His own disciples want to reign down fire on the people who don't like Jesus, and one of cuts a guy's ear off when Jesus is being arrested in the garden. They'd make good radio preachers, and even in this Jesus shows remarkable restraint, as he does with the false confidence of those same disciples later on. Through of this, Jesus shows patience and compassion.
On the other hand, in Mark 7:6-7, Jesus shows no mercy and compassion when he exposes the thing that He hates most of all: hypocrisy. He quotes Isaiah, as he says that the religious leaders are the worst sinners of all because their actions on the outside don't correspond to who they really are. They're acting a part, playing the role of holiness while on stage, in front of people. the word hypocrite comes from the Greek word meaning, "actor", and it becomes clear through Jesus ministry that this sin is the worst sin of all.
The reason this sin is exposed by Jesus as the worst sin is because this is the sin that will prevent people from experiencing transformation. What happens when hypocrisy becomes ingrained in us? We make a pact with duplicity. We invariably place ourselves on the moral high ground, seeing the failures and shortcomings of others with 20/20 vision, while being blind to our own garbage. Do this long enough, and you begin to actually believe that you are the part that you're playing on stage - the holy one. This play acting disgusts Jesus.
Of course, anyone can play act, but it becomes increasingly easy to do so, the longer you hang out with church people, and the higher you climb in Christian social circles. In fact, it even seems that there's a subtle wicked synergy that can happen when Christians are together. We're sorely tempted to put on our show in a similar way that I'd never consider going to a Sounder Soccer game without wearing my Sounder shirt. It's as if, subtly, our collective gatherings become the stage for a religious play, and our real selves get left at the door. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but even if this only happens a little bit, that little bit is hypocrisy, the one thing God hates most of all.
A friend of mine recently wrote, "Jesus did not die for Christians, nor for Atheists, nor for Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims. Jesus died exclusively for sinners." We nod in hearty agreement. We shout "Amen". But unless I actually stop performing, and come to Jesus, not as a religious hero, but as a sinner, I can't come to Jesus at all.
The good news in this is that I'm suddenly freed from performing. No longer needing to put on my religious clothing for the religious game, I can be honest to God - with my failures, my doubts, my weariness, and the darkness of my heart.
The bad news is that, if everyone else is wearing their game shirt, I'm going to feel a little awkward with my plain old clothing. But the fraternity of the awkward is, strangely enough, where Jesus delights to hang out. He calls it, "outside the camp", where the designer labels of Christian performance aren't seen.
What does this mean for church life? For worship services? For your own walk with God? I'm very interested in your thoughts.