I was sitting outside in the almost unbearable heat and humidity of Acapulco, Mexico trying to have a discussion with teenagers about Romans 3 after a long day of construction at Casa Hogar, a home where children live whose families cannot afford to take care of them. I was mostly trying to lead this discussion because it felt like what I was supposed to do as the youth pastor, but really I just wanted to get out of heat and go to bed.
To avoid much thought or effort on my part, I simply read the passage and asked the students to go around and share what stood out to them. As the students went around the circle, I heard the typical, superficial “Christian” goody-goody answers, which was fine with me because it meant I didn’t have to really engage in the discussion and I could just respond the same…without thought.
Then Hannah spoke up. I didn’t know Hannah very well and when she was a student in my ministry, she didn’t participate much. Now she was a college student who decided to come along with her high school sister on the trip. And my guess is, she spent the last year living the college life as portrayed in the movies.
All have sinned
Hannah said, “That part about ‘all have sinned’ stood out to me.”
What?! No one says that. That’s too obvious for even the most superficial of Christians.
Suddenly, I was completed engaged in the discussion. I wanted to know why that stood out to her.
With the faintest signs of tears, Hannah responded, “Because it means everyone has messed up like me and that makes me feel better. It gives me hope.”
I saw two reactions to Hannah from my group; empathy or condescension.
The ones who reacted with condescension really bothered me.
Who did they think they were?
I didn’t say anything because although somewhat fired up, I was still hot and tired…and hot and tired won out.
Then in the middle of the night, I woke up and realized that my empathic response had oozed with condescension.
Although I was moved with compassion for Hannah and her realization that everyone messes up, not just her, as she spoke up, I still believed she must had fallen shorter of the glory of God than I had for that verse to jump out at her.
I was reminded of the story in John 8 where the adulterous woman is brought before Jesus by the Pharisees. Asking Jesus if she should be stoned according to the Law of Moses, Jesus replies “He who is without sin should cast the first stone.”
One by one the Pharisees retreat, dropping and leaving their stones.
I’ve never thought of the Pharisees as empathic, but here it appears that they have empathized with this adulterous woman. They have come to the conclusion that they too have sin. That they too have fallen short.
But unlike the woman who stays at the feet of Jesus, in no way trying to make amends for her sin, they give her a final condescending glance as they walk off being convicted of their sin, they know that they will make a promise never to do that which they have been convicted of again. That they will offer whatever sacrifice is necessary to atone for their sin. They will set up any accountability necessary to keep them from being like her again.
Yet they missed the true Atonement saying, “Has no one condemned you? Nor do I condemn. Go and sin no more.”
So glad it’s all about grace.