Many believe sin is the failure to follow commandments or laws. Many mistake human legal formulations—like commandments and laws—as God’s word or God’s requirements. The implication made by those who formulate these “laws” is that breaking the commandment or law breaks the human being’s relationship with God. The broken relationship with God must be restored in order for the person to avoid the long-term consequences of remaining out of God’s favor. Often the interpreter or mediator of this law is the person who formulated the law. The same people who believe all of this also believe that they protect God’s purity and integrity, or that they advance God’s cause in the world. This understanding is contrary to divine order established by God and by the divine order that exists in God and through God. God’s purity, God’s integrity, and God’s cause, as they pertain to divine order, do not require human intervention. The purity of God, the integrity of God, and God’s order, God’s righteousness cannot be altered or affected by human beings.
Sin is best understood as an ordering of human love contrary to divine love and divine order. Selfish intention, attributing to oneself what belongs to God, self-love before love of God or neighbor, is a sin more harmful to the person than “breaking” commandments formulated by human authority. The same action can embody sin or love, and which it is, sin or love, depends on the inner condition of the person. Repentance— understood by Jesus as the turning of the full being toward God—is the means by which order is restored, by which the interior orientation of the person—their sight, their hearing, their mind—is attuned to God. This ordering of love—love of God and love of neighbor before love of self—is grace and expresses divine order.
This preliminary understanding of sin is helpful to anyone who seeks to understand the Sermon on the Mount and the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus presents to the people a different perspective on love and divine order, one that is contrary to the understanding accepted during his time on earth. The spiritual work of Jesus changed the understanding of law because he was able to express the correct understanding of God’s divine order and God’s relationship with humanity.
In the present we do not always see how sin is manifest because it is so common to disassociate sin from the material causes of disease. When Jesus healed the lame and the sick, sin and disease joined together were perceived as a death-grip on the person. Priests frequently blamed disease and unfortunate circumstances on the sins of the person or the family. Priests controlled the perception of sin, uncleanliness, and lack of favor with God through their administration of the laws found in Leviticus. Sin, disease, marginalization and separation marked the person unacceptable to God. The marked person was turned away from the temple and turned away from the “clean” and “virtuous” chosen people, the people favored by the priests. Some who were sick or unclean were able to pay for animal sacrifices and make contributions to secure the favor of priests. These actions were a prerequisite for the assignment of cleanliness, repentance, or righteousness by the priests, priests who were declared representative of God by the same “laws” they endorsed. The belief that God could only be worshipped in the temple was common. The sick, the lame, the unclean, and those who had not turned over the required tithe were turned away from the temple by the priests.
With this understanding of sin and disease common among the priests and the people, Jesus came and healed and did not require a tithe, did not require animal sacrifice, and did not use Levitical law to affirm his authority. His authority came from a different power, a power within him.
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mark 1:29-34)
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25)
These events in the life of Jesus express the change that occurred within him, the ways that his understanding of God became manifest in his own physical body and manifest in people around him. What we see, what was seen by those around Jesus, the revelation of God within Jesus, is the way God’s truth and love are expressed according to divine laws.
Those who were sick with disease, possessed by demons, those with epilepsy, and those paralyzed, when face to face with Jesus, saw and understood wholeness, because the wholeness in him expressed unconditional love. The physical manifestation of God’s love, embodied by Jesus, touched them physically so they could feel wholeness in their bodies, and it spoke to them in ways that they could understand the meaning of his words. The hidden and broken parts of them were made visible and healed. They were accepted in their brokenness and accepted in their darkness. The truth that lived in him, that lived as him, lived in them.