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Honoring Sinners
First Posted by Robert Certain on Thursday Jan. 25, 2018


    January 25 is a major feast in the church – the Conversion of St. Paul. Saul of Tarsus, better known as Paul, was converted to Jesus as he made his way to the town of Damascus to arrest and persecute members of the synagogue there who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. The Acts of the Apostles notes that he had agreed with and witnessed Stephen being stoned to death and Paul was determined to do the same to other believers. Paul himself is very clear about his past and reminds us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

    This same Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles and the principal author of most of the books of the New Testament. The Christian community honors him not because he was a vicious persecutor but because he was a witness to the saving grace of the Jesus he had tried so hard to eradicate. From Paul’s life we learn that God intends to save sinners, that they may turn from their wickedness and live. For that, I am deeply grateful. My mother taught that lesson as she reminded her children that we called to hate sin, but to love sinners. When I study the Bible, I am struck by just how sinful the heroes of the faith are, but how much good they have done when they have allowed God to have his way in their lives. I cannot find a Biblical character (other than Jesus and his Blessed Mother) who is not sinful and broken – the scriptures do not gloss over the dark side of life. It seems to me that the successes of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul and all the rest are made more obvious the work of God in their lives because their sinfulness is so obvious.

    I lament the current fad of tearing people apart or removing them from places of honor because of their dark side; this seems to me to be a sad and dangerous course. Instead, we should be asking “what did they do that is worthy of honor?” and then teach our children that just because someone was a sinner (adulterer, slave owner, thief, murderer, etc.) it does not erase the good things they accomplished in their better moments or when they acknowledged their faults and tried to be better. Our children can then grow up knowing that they do not have to be perfect to be loved and accepted; and that because of that love and acceptance they, too, can make mistakes, learn from them, and grow into better and better people.

    God struck Paul blind so he could see clearly that Jesus is Lord, and left him with a “thorn in the flesh” to remind him of his past and to keep him humble. Paul continued to struggle (Romans 7:9) with his past and his continued sinfulness; but as he gave himself to God’s purposes he became a Saint of the Church. Instead of condemning others and ourselves for our sinfulness, we would do well to search for how God’s hand can work in our lives to bring peace and reconciliation to the world.

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