Thursday, August 31, 2006

Friend of Sinners

In the postscript to Jesus the Jew, Geza Vermes, describing what is special about the teaching of Jesus says this:
The prophets spoke on behalf of the honest poor, and defended the widows and the fatherless, those oppressed and exploited by the wicked, rich and powerful. Jesus went further. In addition to proclaiming these blessed, he actually took his stand among the pariahs of his world, those despised by the respectable. Sinners were his table-companions and the ostracised tax-collectors and prostitutes his friends.

I wonder if the oft-repeated dogma among the "respectable" that the best among us are wicked has undermined this openness to the ostracised. Too often the best we can muster is to say that "the wicked," though deserving of scorn, can stand beside us because, as we say, we are sinners too (though I think we scarely believe it). The very doctrine that often supports this "forgiveness", universal depravity, prevents us from considering the possibility that Jesus would see them as good.

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