The Love of Christ for Sinners

The following article by Blessed Michael Sopocko was first published in the April-June, 1960 issue of the Marian Helpers Bulletin. Blessed Michael was the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina.

"The Son of Man is come to see and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10).

Our Lord, on entering the house of Zacchaeus the publican, said that He had come on earth "to seek and to save that which was lost." And, in His conversation with Nicodemus, He said the same thing - that "God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him." (John 3:17). In other words, the chief motive for Christ's coming was to show Mercy to sinful men. Every chapter of the Gospels proclaims it, but it appears most unmistakably in His dealings with the woman who was a sinner, the woman taken in adultery, Zacchaeus, and the thief on the cross, Dismas.

Mary Magdalen

I. Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to dine, but did not honor Him with the customary marks of respect (the washing of feet, the kiss, the sprinkling with scent); he gave Him, on His arrival, almost the lowest place on one of the couches ranged round a low central table. During the banquet there slipped in among the servants a woman well known to be a public sinner, who, without a word to anyone, knelt down at our Lord's outstretched feet and began to weep bitterly. So abundant were her tears that they fell on the feet of the Savior, and, having nothing with which to wipe them, the woman, filled with reverence, loosened her hair and with it wiped the Master's feet, which she then anointed with fragrant ointment. The ghost of a smile passed over Simon's face, and he said to himself: "This man, if he were a prophet, would know... that she is a sinner" (Lk 7:39).

Simon's thoughts were no secret from Christ, who tactfully and gently called his attention to his own lack of hospitality in not giving Him water to wash His feet, not greeting Him with a kiss, not anointing His head; whereas this woman had bathed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with ointment. Therefore "many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. And He said to her: They sins are forgiven thee" (Lk 7:47-48). This incident is wonderfully characteristic of the Savior, Who showed great presence of mind, dignity and courage, but above all a touching Mercy for sinners who are truly repentant. We see here, too, the whole process of justification: it begins with faith, and with repentance springing from love in the sinner's soul, and is complete by the infinite Mercy of God.

Woman taken in adultery

In just the same way did the Savior behave towards the woman taken in adultery, whom the Pharisees cast at His feet, with the question: "Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest Thou?" (Jn 8:5). Our Lord did not refute the charge, nor did He defend the adulteress: He merely wrote on the ground with His finger - which among Jews and Greeks, showed that one was displeased. At last He "lifted up Himself" and said: "He that is without sin among you, let him first case a stone at her. And again stooping down, He wrote on the ground" (Jn 8:7-8). The reply was wise and full of Mercy, both towards the accused woman and towards her accusers, who, "hearing this went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst. Then Jesus, lifting up Himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more" (Jn 8:9-11).

The Savior here showed Himself not a judge, but the Father of Mercy, who condemns sin, but not the sinner, to whom He gives life of body and soul and who furthermore He endows with merciful graces. In this incident is revealed an extraordinary gift of counsel which triumphed over all the plots and wiles of His enemies; but, above all, we see the infinite Mercy of God, since Our Lord defends the sinner and spares the Pharisees, leads the woman to repentance and a purpose of amendment, converts her, and finally bids her go in peace.

Case of Zacchaeus

II. Not otherwise did Our Lord act towards sinful men, as we see from the case of Zacchaeus. This tax-gatherer, rich in materials things, felt a longing for other riches - riches that had nothing to do with gold or silver. When, therefore, Our Lord entered Jericho on His missionary journey, Zacchaeus longed at least to catch sight of Him. And as he was short and the crowd prevented him from seeing, he climbed a sycamore growing by the roadside, that from it he might have an unimpeded view of the Saviour. Our Lord knew Zacheus's disposition; He stood still under the tree in which he was sitting, looked up at him and called out: "Zacheus, make haste and come down, for this day I must abide in thy house. And he made haste and came down, and received Him with joy. And when all saw it, they murmured, saying that He was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner" (Lk 19:5-7).

Gaze of Mercy

Zacchaeus first felt on him the kindly gaze of Christ, which penetrated his soul and filled it with light. Who can describe this gaze, which pierced to the very depths, poured in the grace of Mercy and kindled the soul of Zacchaeus to new life? When Zacchaeus climbed the tree, he was but making a small effort to see Our Lord; but the Savior not only looked at him but invited Himself to his house and engaged him in intimate conversation, in which He assured the sinner of salvation by saying: "This day is salvation come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost" (Lk 19:9-10).

Tradition tell us that Zacchaeus thenceforth devoted himself to apostolic labor and became a bishop in Caesaria. The Savior did not conform in His behavior to the obsolete prejudices of the crowd, swayed as they were by the Pharisees, but fearlessly condemned those prejudices by word and deed, showing the abundance of His Mercy to one who had not had a chance to implore it.

Dismas, Good Thief

Our Lord's attitude to sinners is brought out most clearly of all by the case of Dismas, dying on the Cross. He had been a great sinner, whose whole life was spent in serious misdeeds, for which he was finally sentenced to death by crucifixion. On the way to Golgotha he encountered Our Lord, Whom, in all probability, he did not know before: he may not even have heard of Him. From the moment of this encounter on the way to the Cross, he gazed earnestly at the Savior, never taking his eyes off Him during the Crucifixion; and he heard Him pray for His murderers from the Cross. This sharing in the agony of his fellow-sufferer caused grace to stir within him; and Our Lord's gaze, turned on him, completed his conversion.

How close Dismas was to eternal ruin, as a murderer and thief! But suddenly a ray of Grace shot into his darkened soul, and from being an evil-doer he became a penitent. The grace of Divine Mercy so enlightened him that he saw and proclaimed, in the condemned Man hanging beside him, the King of the Kingdom of Heaven. First he came out in defense of Our Lord against the blasphemies of those around. And what a noble defense it was! When the disciples had fled, and Peter denied Him, he alone believed firmly, showed heroic trust, and, in refutation of Pilate's sentence proclaimed the innocence of Christ by saying to the other thief:

"Neither dost thou fear God, seeing that thou art under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, four we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done no evil" (Lk 23:42).

Paradise Gained

Our Lord accepted the repentance of Dismas, and, with great love and mercy, gave the magnanimous reply: "Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Here Our Lord not only promised, but gave him, with complete certainty, more than he had asked. For Dismas had begged the Savior for no more than to remember him at some unspecified time: and now he learnt that on that very day he was to be in the happiness of heaven - that he would not even have to go to purgatory. What a happy hour of death - an hour of death that we may all envy - after so many years of evil-doing and crimes! O how great and unfathomable, how infinite and immeasurable, the Mercy of God that flowed into the soul of the thief at the last moment of his life on earth!

Our Lord describes His attitude to sinners in many parables and wonderful comparisons: we need but recall the touching parables of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the missing piece of silver, to see how true are the words: "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. For I am not come to call the just, but sinners."

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