Let’s consider a Bible passage from Matthew 9:9-13...
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10 While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13 Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
From what we know about what Jesus taught, there is one thing we can never forget:
- Major Premise: Jesus came to call the sinners, not the righteous.
- Minor Premise: Jesus came to call us.
- Conclusion: Therefore, We are sinners.
If we forget this fact, then we run the risk of becoming like the Pharisees, looking upon others as sinners, but giving no thought to our own sins. If we give no thought to our own sins, how can we repent of the evil done? The fact is, there are two types of sinners out there—those who acknowledge what they do is wrong, and those who do not acknowledge what they do is wrong. Jesus was calling the Pharisees to conversion as well. But the Pharisees did not acknowledge their own sinfulness. Instead, they assumed that because they kept the law strictly and did not commit the sins of the tax collectors, they were righteous before God. But actually, they merely committed different sins and still need the attitude of metanoia—the change of heart—which means they regret the wrong they did and turn back to seek God. If they did this, they would receive God’s grace.
Likewise, if we think our own religious practices and the fact that we do not commit notorious sins to make us righteous before God, we are behaving in the same way as the Pharisees did. Let us consider the words of St. Augustine in his Commentary on Psalm 40...
Who is there can calculate the number of the hairs of his head? Much less can he tell the number of his sins, which exceed the number of the hairs of his head. They seem to be minute; but they are many in number. You have guarded against great ones; you do not now commit adultery, or murder; you do not plunder the property of others; you do not blaspheme; and do not bear false witness; those are the weightier kind of sins. You have guarded against great sins, what are you doing about your smaller ones? You have cast off the weight; beware lest the sand overwhelm you.
[Augustine of Hippo, Psalm 40, #21, in Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 126.]
St. Augustine raises an excellent point here. Let us not think that just because we may not have notorious sins on our conscience that we are free of sin. We can be damned by a multitude of sins that we dismiss as unimportant compared to the sins of others. This is why we must not rest on the assumption that our actions are good enough, compared to the sins of others. The saints sought the grace of God and struggled against their sins out of love for Him. We must go and do likewise.