The Pharisees were certainly a dour people who looked for things to complain about and cast the law upon the shoulders of people as if the law were handcuffs and restraints rather than true freedom. They could not complain about Jesus' righteousness so they complained about the righteousness of those with whom Jesus ate and drank and taught. They could not conceive of a reason why Jesus would associate with such sinners even though Jesus gave them many (the well have no need of a physician but the sick do). They found it almost bothersome and a problem when the sick who were healed and treated them as if they had done something wrong (the man born blind). They had no joy in anything except themselves and their own views and accomplishments (which they thought great enough for God's notice). They did not understand why God would even notice, much less rejoice, over a sinner who repents and so they did not do either.
I wonder if we have become Pharisees. Politically we have become all about removing the statues and monuments of those whose sins offend us -- even those who later saw the error of their ways and did attempt to atone for their wrongs. In Tennessee we have watched the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest removed from the Capital and placed in the State Museum. Forrest certainly did not live an exemplary life by any standards -- much less by the woke values that prevail today! He was the first Grand Wizard of the KKK. But that is not where his story ends. Two years later he renounced the organization, called for its dissolution, and spoke in favor of racial harmony. I really don't care much about where or whether his bust is displayed but I wonder if our zeal for his sins has consumed us so that we find no joy in his repentance? I use him only as an example and do not know any more about the man than common history records. My point is NOT about Nathan Bedford Forrest but about us. Do we have any room to rejoice over those who repent of their wrongs or are they forever marked by their sins?
Perhaps the same could be said for the Church. Pastors screw up. Some of them screw up big time in public ways that cause scandal to the body and an offense to the very witness of the faith in the community. I heartily agree that some sins disqualify a man from the Office of the Holy Ministry. But I also note that there are a number of pastors who have offended or made other kinds of mistakes (not public moral failings) who remain sequestered on candidate status or were removed from the roster because they have become sinners whose repentance matters not -- not to district presidents or call committees or congregations. Do we refuse to rejoice over sinners who acknowledge their wrongs and repent of their ways? Are we Pharisees in our reluctance to join the heavenly throng in their party to celebrate repentance? Do we refuse the invitation because we have purchased livestock, dead to bury, and property to survey?
My fear is that we have become not only an easily offended lot but also a somber one. We are suspicious of the repentant and hesitant to celebrate even the small victories of the Spirit and God's rich grace. We do not need to join the sins of the sinners -- Jesus did not. But we dare not treat the sin as greater than the repentance either. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched as someone who has been absent from the Lord's house and Table for months or even years and the reception they get when they return is less than warm. "Did you forget your way to church? I thought the roof would fall in before you would come back. Where have you been? Oh, my gosh! Lazarus back from the dead." Sometimes their return is like a gauntlet of ribbing that must be endured before they can find their way into the pew as a prodigal returning home. What did the waiting Father do for the Prodigal who returned? He rejoiced with fine robe, ring, and feast -- all shared with anyone and everyone who would rejoice with him over the lost found and the dead alive again. What do we do? Sometimes I get why people return once and never come back again -- there is no joy in Mudville and all we can recall are the strikeouts, the foul balls, and the fly balls caught.
Failing to rejoice over the things for which heaven rejoices is also a sin. Maybe we need to remember this once in a while.