How do we love our sinful neighbor without becoming elitists?

Q: How do you reconcile the commandment to “love thy neighbor” when he/she is not living in the image of God without become too judgmental so as act like the elitist high priests that Jesus spoke out against?

Saint Augustine’s well-known axiom “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” may be helpful here. All people are deserving of love, precisely because they are created in the image of God. However, that doesn’t mean that we should be accepting of sinful behavior. Depending on your relationship to the particular person and your role in his/her life, it may be appropriate for you to challenge the person and sound a call to conversion. If you decide to do so, the impetus should be to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), rather than “speak the truth in judgment” which is what Jesus criticized the religious authorities of doing.

A good test for ourselves when we feel we might be leaning toward judgment of a neighbor is this: ask if there is a plank in our own eye that we need to attend to before focusing on the speck in the other person’s eye (Mt 7:3). We can also pray for a deeper understanding of the other person’s plight in life, and ask for compassion to see the image of God that still resides in him/her. Jesus’ ability to respond to sinners in this loving and non-judgmental way was what sparked conversions in them. It wasn’t accusations about their behavior or comparisons between their choices and the choices of others we deem more holy.


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