Christ the Friend of Sinners

Father Robert Hugh Benson says of Christ: “Among His most marked characteristics, as recorded in the Gospels, were His Friendship for sinners, His extraordinary sympathy for them, and His apparent ease in their company. It was, in fact, for this very thing that fault was found with Him. . . . And yet, if we think of it, this characteristic of His is one of His supreme credentials for His Divinity; since none but the Highest could condescend so low—none but God would be so human. On the one side there is no patronage as from a superior height—’This man receiveth sinners’ (Lk 15:2). He is not content to preach to them: He ‘eateth with them’ as if on their level. And, on the other, not a taint of the silly modern pose of unmorality: His final message is always, ‘Go, and now sin no more’ (Jn 8:11).”

So great is His concern for sinners that Christ relates three relevant parables in a single discourse: “The piece of silver lost in the house is declared more precious than the nine pieces in the money-box: the single wilful sheep lost in the wilderness more valuable than the ninety-nine in the fold: the rebellious son lost in the world more dear than the elder, and the heir, safe at home.”

“See, too, how He acted on what He said. It is not merely a vague benevolence that He practises towards sinners in the abstract; but a particular kindness towards sinners in the concrete. He chooses out, it seems, the three types of all sin and unites them in a special manner to His company. To the careless, reckless, thick-skinned villain He promises Paradise; to the hot-blooded, passionate, sensitive Magdalene He gives absolution and praises her love; and even that sinner most repulsive of all—the deliberate, cold-hearted traitor who prefers thirty shillings to His Master—He greets even in the very moment and climax of his treachery with the tenderest title of all—’Friend,’ says Jesus Christ, ‘whereto art thou come?’ (Mt 26:50).”

“One lesson emerges, then from the Gospel story clearly enough. We cannot know Christ in His most characteristic aspect until we find Him among the Sinners.”

Quotations from Robert Hugh Benson, The Friendship of Christ (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912).

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