Saturday, Week Twenty-Three
In 1Timothy 1:15-17 Paul lays down one of the foundational rules of Christian thought, action, and
pastoral practice: “You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That is what the Church is all about: saving sinners. Not condemning them. Not ignoring them. Not driving them away. Saving them.
Saving involves conversion, of course. The first word in the proclamation of the Good News is “Repent!”—a poor translation of “metanoiete,” that means:
Change your minds and hearts! Put the ax to the root of the tree! Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect! (Matthew 3:2, 10; 4:17; Acts 2:38; Romans 12:1-2).
That is very different from just condemning people for particular sins. John wrote: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” And Jesus himself said to the woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” To the woman who said, “I have no husband,” he answered “You are right! You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
Then he used her to bring the whole town to him (John 3:17; 4:16-18; 8:11).
Jesus did denounce sin. But the people he denounced most vigorously were those whose religion seemed to consist in condemning others: the Pharisees (see for example Matthew 23:1-39).
So why have we made Communion something we use in practice to separate the sheep from the goats?
We teach children from their earliest years that they must not receive Communion if they are in “mortal sin.” We do not teach them that to commit “deadly” sin we have to do something so evil it makes us positively evil. We teach them, because we were taught, that we are guilty of mortal sin if we do anything we have been told is “seriously wrong,” provided we are physically able to say no to it. And we were conditioned to be shocked and offended if we saw anyone receiving Communion who we knew was not in “good standing” according to selective Church laws.
In Luke 6:43-49 Jesus sets a different standard of judgment:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit. ...The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil.
If a person obviously has the faith and is trying to live by it, does failure in some particular area (in practice, almost always sexual) mean he or she is “evil”? If so, how do we explain conduct so consistently loving that it seems inexplicable without grace? Or fidelity to Mass? Or a thirst for prayer? If we stop using Communion as a litmus test, we won’t have to.
Action: Before keeping anyone from Communion, be certain Jesus would.