In Jesus’ day being labeled a sinner also meant that you were an outcast. Luke 19 tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with a tax-collector, read sinner, named Zacchaeus. The “proper” folks were somewhat disturbed that Jesus would choose to associate with someone so evil. For them Zacchaeus was beyond the reach of God.
I find it fascinating how we still use labels as a tool for demonizing those we don’t like. Labels allow us to put justifiable space between “us” and the “other.” They still allow us to put the other beyond the reach of God.
In times of war the other becomes the “enemy”- a step below human. Here in the USA we are getting ready for election season. Between now and the election, labeling will be elevated to an art form. Those who don’t agree with a certain political perspective risk being eviscerated by the other side.
In a culture where we have worked so hard to eliminate racial and sexist slurs it seems that we have replaced racism and sexism with new more toxic ways of destroying those we don’t agree with. It isn’t OK to talk about a leader’s skin color, but it is OK to compare that leader to Hitler – really? Is this progress? There have to be better ways to disagree. When did destroying the opponent become morally right?
There is this biblical vision of the lion and lamb lying down together – enemies becoming friends. One of the first statements in the Lord’s Prayer is, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” My guess is that all of us have a picture of what heaven is like. I suspect that each vision is somewhat unique, but I am sure that none of those visions include labeling others.
What does it look like for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Could it include actively finding ways to turn sinners, political opponents, enemies and rivals into friends? Choosing to live this way will require things like compromise, humility and a willingness to change my opinion.
Imagine a world where labels don’t exist. Heaven on earth?