Jesus reached out to harlots. He did not reach out to their harlotry. Jesus reached out to hypocrites, often with a rhetorical fist to capture their attention. He did not reach out to their hypocrisy. He reached out to tax collectors, those half-traitors to their nation. He did not reach out to their treachery.
I am imagining a parade down Main Street of Anyville.
It’s the typical American parade. Some people are tootling on flutes, braying out almost-G on the trumpet, or banging the big bass drum. A group of high school girls in short skirts dance and twirl their batons. Old men with bellies stuffed into their faded Army uniforms march along with rifles slung over their shoulders. The gladhanding mayor comes waving in a limousine, a smile frozen on his face as people cheer or hoot. Fire engines one two three and four roar down the road with siren and horn. Middle-aged ladies from the middle-aged lady association come bearing friendly banners, smiling to the children in the crowds. A troop of boy scouts, a troop of girl scouts, a clown with big floppy feet, random boys running into and out of the festivities, somebody hawking cotton candy, parents along the sidewalks carrying small children on their shoulders; everything and everyone you expect.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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In the parade are liars, cheats, gossips, Sabbath-breakers, and people who drink too much. In the parade are adulterers, a thief or two, a pleasant civic-minded taker of bribes, a man who beats his wife, and a wife who beats her husband. In the parade are people hooked on porn, and at least one woman who has produced some of it herself. In the parade are parents who have hurt their children and children who have hurt their parents. In the parade are fornicators, and some who have snuffed in the womb the natural result of their fornication. In the parade is a doctor who let an elderly patient die of an overdose of morphine because her relatives wanted it. In the parade are the angry, the false-hearted, the covetous, the slothful, the vain, the blasphemous, the licentious, the ambitious, the perverse, the cruel, the petty, the lukewarm, and the obscene.
In the parade are human beings. In the parade are sinners. We are in the parade and we are lining the streets to watch the parade.
In the town next to mine when I was a boy, the Italian immigrants had brought over from Gubbio a great festive parade, the Race of the Saints. Three teams of men, carrying seven-hundred-pound statues of Saint George, Saint Anthony, and Saint Ubaldo, Gubbio’s patron, would race up and down the hilly streets, to the cheers of most of their four thousand townsmen. Sin was carrying sanctity; sinners bent their backs and strained their legs to give honor to the saints.
That is why we have a parade. We who are not always honorable show our appreciation for honor. We who are not always holy show our reverence for holiness. We who are small pay our respects to what is great. We who have received great benefits show some modest gratitude for those who have conferred them upon us.
Now let us suppose that the Royal Order of Wife-Beaters wants to add their float to the parade, with a jaunty young lady bending over to invite the man with the big paddle. Let us suppose that the Fornicators for Freedom want to march, dancing to “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” Let us suppose that a group calling itself Porn Again Christians wants to strut, with bikini underwear and thongs. Let us suppose that the Rumor Rustlers want to march, advertising their raison d’etre, to ferret out other people’s ugly secrets and to spread them abroad in gleeful caricatures.
We can imagine other groups too: The Ponzi Perps, The Brothers of Brawling, The Sharks of the Payday Loan, The Morphine Mavens, The Salacious Sluts, The Kiddie Korruptors, The Ku Klux Klan, The New Nazis, The Legal Thieves, The Sowers of Discord, The Peddlers of Public Office, The Gladhearted Gluttons, The Bloodsucking Leeches, The Refusers to Lift a Finger, and so forth.
Now suppose that the parade were ostensibly held to celebrate the feast day of a saint, and that a leader of the saint’s faith were to occupy the seat of honor. That would not be a case of sin carrying sanctity. It would be a case of sin marching right over the backside and the head of sanctity. Saint Patrick, according to legend, cast all the serpents out of Ireland. The new Patrick is more “inclusive.” He welcomes the serpents back in.
I take it as given that any politician who marched alongside the Ray Rice Family Fisticuffs Club would be shamed from office. That is not because the halls of our congresses and senates are for saints only. Would that they were! How many fewer and how much cheaper our political campaigns would be! It is simply because allowing the Ray Rice Family Fisticuffs Club to have a float in the parade is to affirm, with all the obvious noise and cheer of celebration, that there is nothing wrong with Family Fisticuffs. Nay, if only the prejudiced would consider the matter more carefully, they might see the fine constructiveness of Family Fisticuffs, especially as regards family order and peace and tranquility. Allowing the Ku Klux Klan to march would be to affirm, without your speaking a word, that there is nothing wrong about their racism; one might as well have a friendly photo taken with the top Kleagle, hooded and beaming and giving a thumbs-up to klods everywhere. That would not be “reaching out to Klansmen.” It would be to stoop to kiss their klownish feet.
I am not saying that all these evils are equivalent. I am saying that they are evils. Some are legally permitted, some are not; some are celebrated these days, some are shrugged away, and some are reviled. None of those accidental circumstances should matter to the man of God. The man of God does not help build a float for Kleagles, fornicators, embezzlers, porn stars, thieves, wife-beaters, rumor-mongers, liars, adulterers, sodomites, or any other sinners who want their sins, and not their souls, to be blessed.