And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-32)
While the religious zealots of ancient Israel thought it improper to intermix with people not living up to their religious standards, Christ had no problem interacting with them. Most likely, his eating with sinners was a sign that He saw Himself as initiating the Kingdom of Heaven, a time of Jubilee, in which God cancels all debts including those of sinners. God is fully re-united not only to all His people but also to creation itself. In spite of this glorious and joyous truth, still the Kingdom of Heaven is not fully realized on earth: the world is not yet God’s paradisical kingdom. Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement comments:
In our initial approach, we do not think of transforming society into paradise but fight so that it might not become hell; . . .
A man of prayer and hope avoids as well as he can both the cynicism of conservatives (the good management of ills considered to be inevitable, for others!) and the bitterness of revolutionaries (inevitably disappointed in both unrealized revolutions and in those two well carried out). . . .
Christianity has attempted, not unsuccessfully, to sanctify culture. But more and more it has stifled freedom. Today it behooves the church to break away from nostalgia and from the desire for power in order to become – or become once again – the secret soil from which the forests of the future will rise up. . . .
Evil can be cured at its very root only by holiness. But holiness – the Gospel – must introduce into society a certain tension, a seed, or even a wound, that makes up the very context of spiritual freedom. (THREE PRAYERS, p 25)
There is a tension for believers in living in this world which God so loves (John 3:16), and yet which is fallen in sin. We live in this world in which we can experience both God and evil. And some ideologues believe they can rid this world of evil, but they often are willing to sacrifice many human lives and cause terrible destruction to attain their goal. I think Clement is right to say our goal is not to make the world into paradise, but rather to prevent it from becoming hell. Each of us can work to make holiness present in our lives – which means not so much becoming morally perfect as it means allowing Christ into our hearts and homes so that each of us is transformed by the Gospel commandments. We do not need to be sinless, but we do need to be repentant to have Christ in our lives. The Kingdom of God is not established on earth through governments, laws or victorious armies. The Kingdom begins within each one of us and is a change of heart and mind. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.”