As I read this passage today, I found my mind wandering to the recent nightmare aboard the Carnival cruise ship Triumph. I found myself wondering if the people who paid top-dollar for a corner cabin with a nice balcony wound up eating the same half-rotten food as the folks with interior cabins near the waterline. Did they all have to trudge through sewage-soaked halls? I’m imagining that answer is probably yes. They were all in the same boat. Maybe something like the Titanic disaster is a better image. Once the boats were gone, super-rich First-Class folks died just the same as Third-Class steerage peasants.
In Romans 1-3, once Paul starts laying-in to people, he gets everyone in trouble pretty quickly. He starts with sexual sins, but he doesn’t stay there long. Pretty soon he expands that list to include everyone:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them. (1:28-32 NRSV).
And lest we become tempted to pick a particularly nasty sin from the list and start pointing a judgmental finger, Paul reminds us: God shows no partiality. We’re all fried. We’ve all got a thing or two on that list we’ve been guilty of. Don’t thumb your nose at God’s patience and grace. Don’t spend your time pointing out everyone else’s sin.
Our pleasure cruise has become a cesspool. White-collar, private, victim-less sins are still sins along side the more culturally obvious ones.
Now, I think it’s a mistake to use that level playing field as a reason to feel good about ourselves. Just because our sins are equal does not mean they won’t equally incur God’s wrath (according to Romans.) Thank God the end of Romans 2 is coming, because we all need God’s grace and are legitimately, really, truly fried without it.
The point here is it’s silly for one blind, hungry beggar to ridicule another blind, hungry beggar because he smells weird or she’s got dirt on her face.