Take this one, which recently crossed my path on Facebook: “Jesus didn’t call them sinners. He called them friends.”
Ah, yes. Wisdom from the holy Book of Memes: short and sugary and calculated to make you smile as a warm feeling slides over you like so much syrup over a fluffy pancake.
Meanwhile, the inanity of this statement goes unnoticed; or, if it is noticed, it seems to be regarded as simply “not that important.” Surely whoever wrote this had their heart in the right place, and that’s what matters, so let’s have a group hug, shall we?
Let’s not. This sentiment is the product of Hallmark, not of serious theological reflection. It is a half truth. And like most half-truths, it’s too simple. Accepting it, we trade a hearty, delicious, soul-nourishing biblical paradox for a cup of thin and marshy porridge.
Jesus most definitely did call them sinners, and He most definitely did call them friends, and it is the first fact which makes the second fact so wonderful to consider. “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)
That Jesus should be a friend of “good people” would not surprise us. That He should hang out with the elite would seem most fitting. That He should die for the deserving would be no scandal. But a friend of sinners? A savior who came for the lost and the hateful? As the old hymn puts it, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?”