Compassion for Jesus?

In 1988, I did a bad thing. Well, I didn’t think it was bad, but the fact that other people did made it all the more delicious.

I went to see the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.”

Kind of funny now, I know, but back then, during the height of the furor around the movie, it felt naughty. It wasn’t playing in the conservative city where I attended a Christian college, so a friend and I drove for an hour to see it, giddy with anticipation of the blasphemy to come.

The movie did not disappoint. A Jesus who waffled, unsure of who he was and what his message was? Check. Sexual overtones with Mary Magdalene? Check. Extensive fantasy scene in which he comes off the cross, doesn’t die for our sins and even confronts later Christians with his physical, non-dead presence? Check.

I giggled in glee at the prospect of writing my review for the school paper.

But then there was one scene that didn’t go for shock value, and that one scene made me reevaluate not just the movie, but my appreciation of Jesus’ story.

The Garden of Gethsemane…

Please click here for the rest of this post, part of the Stations of the Cross series hosted by Emily McFarlan Miller.

The Court of Heaven vs Me

It was a typical morning in heaven. An angel choir sang at dawn. It being heaven, that was lovely, and everyone woke up totally refreshed. The prophets had taken over several booths in their favorite diner, one-upping each other with stories from the old days. It being heaven, nobody minded that they were hearing the same stories for the (approximately) 10,000th time.

Jeremiah told about the time the Lord told him to walk around with a yoke across his shoulders, warning everyone to put their necks under the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar or be destroyed. He rubbed the back of his neck as if he’d only just removed it.

Elijah reenacted the scene with the prophets of Baal. He was the spoon, and they were the toothpicks, limping around their danish plate altar, cutting themselves and crying uselessly to their god to send fire. He got the usual big laugh at his taunt, “Maybe Baal is daydreaming, or off taking a piss.”

Hosea spun his gloomy tale of being told to marry a prostitute, let her return to her profession, and then purchase her back and live with her as his wife again, but Samuel lightened the mood with his spit-take that described how he wanted to react when the Lord led him to anoint the young David over his older and, frankly, more impressive-looking brothers.

But Isaiah sighed. His spoon clinked against the sides of the mug (in heaven, all food was perfect for your tastes the moment you requested it, but Isaiah found the stirring meditative). “I miss pleading the people’s case before the Lord.”

That got everyone quiet and nodding.

It was all joy all the time these days, but they weren’t needed like they were when they were on earth. They weren’t tired of heaven — the complete security in being loved, the no longer needing to strive to please, and the out-of-this-world food, company, and entertainment — but they were nostalgic for the days when they had a purpose.

“Maybe Jesus would let you take a turn as advocate in the Court of Heaven,” Samuel said.

Isaiah swiped the air in front of his face, dismissing that suggestion.

“If any of us could do it, it’d be you,” Hosea said. “After all, you made the most prophecies about Jesus.”

“Yeah,” Elijah said. “He likes you.”

This was one of their favorite jokes, because Jesus liked everyone. They all chucked, except Isaiah.

“Where’s the harm?” Jeremiah asked. “The worst he could say is, ‘no,’ and you had way worse said and done to you on earth.”

Isaiah snorted. “That’s for sure.”

They sat in silence with each other, listening to musicians from Bach to Jimi Hendrix trade licks in the bandshell, until Isaiah put his palms flat on the table. “I’ll do it.”

And then he was outside the double doors at the entrance to the Court of Heaven (because that’s how travel works there). His stomach was fluttery with nerves, which it hadn’t been in three thousand years. Jesus and two Court of Heaven angels hung out by the doors, on break. Their mood was so buoyant, they stood a foot above the floor.

Isaiah frowned. He expected the atmosphere to be more serious, and was reconsidering his request when Jesus called him over. There was no turning back. “My Lord, I love to worship. I live to worship. But I’d like to serve the people in front of our Father again.”

Jesus was silent.

“I mean, if I’m not overreaching, I hope you won’t be offended–”

“You can just say it.” Although Jesus interrupted Isaiah, his tone wasn’t impatient.

“May I plead for the people’s cases this afternoon?”

Jesus gave Isaiah a long, searching stare. Isaiah was sure he’d be found wanting. After all, who was he compared to Jesus? But then He said, “Give it a shot.”

The double doors opened and Jesus ushered Elijah into a tiny, plain room with a filing cabinet, a desk, and a straight-backed wooden chair. This was not at all the grand space Isaiah had imagined. God the Father was there — Isaiah felt His presence — but not in visible form.

“Father,” Jesus said. “Isaiah will take the next case.”

The top drawer of the filing cabinet opened. Jesus hefted the first file and flopped it on the desk. It was huge and unwieldy, with half the papers spilling out. Isaiah sat and opened it, preparing himself for horrible tales of perversion that must warrant such a file. He frowned. Outside of a little high school and college stupidity, for which she’d confessed and asked forgiveness, there wasn’t–

“Court of Heaven versus Natalie Hart,” the angel bailiff announced. “Prophet Isaiah for the defense.”

Isaiah cleared his throat and stood. This’d be simple. “My Lord, I am grateful for the opportunity to come before you today and–”


“Yes, my Lord.”

“Here are today’s cases.”

There was a rumble to Isaiah’s right and he looked to see the filing cabinet zoom higher than he could see. He gulped. “Uh, yes. Since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him. You welcome those who cheerfully do good, who follow godly ways. That describes my client, who goes to church, uses her gifts for your glory, and studies your Word, not every day, to be sure, but pretty close, most of the time, recently. Who tithes. Who frequently comes to you in prayer. Please don’t remember her sins forever. Because of your mercy and your compassion, forgive her.” Maybe it was a little vain to use some of his old words, but Isaiah thought it was a stirring speech.

“Have you looked all the way through her file?”

Either God was truly not pleased or this was a test. It was always hard to tell at first. Isaiah stammered and frantically flipped pages.

God didn’t let him struggle for long. “What about her recurring problems with anger, bitterness, discouragement, lack of trust, unkind thoughts, pride, excessive daydreaming about personal glory, lack of discipline and perseverance, lack of follow-through?”

Isaiah blinked. “But she does everything she’s supposed to do–”

“Pah,” God said. “You left out some of your own words: ‘When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags.’ Classic trying to work out her own salvation, to find her worth in what she does.”

“Even you must admit, God, that her heart is generally in the right place.” Isaiah’s own heart pounded. “She’s a good, moral person, who is genuinely trying to do better. You would’ve saved Sodom and Gomorrah for one such as her. Have mercy on her.”

“My mercy grows thin with repeated rebellion. I will be repaid in full for the debt of her sins.”

This was how it had been back then, too. The Lord vowed to punish his people; sometimes he could be convinced not to, and sometimes He couldn’t. Isaiah hung his head in acceptance, and then jumped when he felt a sudden hand on his shoulder.

“May I?” Jesus whispered.

“Please.” Isaiah sat and patted the sweat from his forehead.

“If it please the judge,” Jesus said. “In the matter of the Court of Heaven versus Natalie Hart, please note that her debt has been cleared. I have paid it.”

Isaiah stared at Jesus. That was so…straightforward.

Jesus continued, “Strike the record of Natalie’s sins and replace it with my record of righteousness.”

“So be it,” God said. And there was the sound of a gavel banging.

That file disappeared and another immediately took its place.

After the bailiff announced it, Jesus said, “His debt has been cleared. I have paid it. Strike the record of his sins and replace it with my record of righteousness.”

Another one. “Her debt has been cleared. I have paid it. Strike the record of her sins and replace it with my record of righteousness.”

Twenty more times, the same thing. And then twenty more. Tears streamed down Isaiah’s cheeks, soaking his beard.

Just as a very slim file made its way to the table, there was a pop in the room, and there stood one of the Evil One’s dark angels. “Witness for the prosecution.” His voice was as oily as his hair.

Isaiah’s stomach clenched. He’d never seen a dark angel in heaven before. But, calm as could be, Jesus gestured for him to go ahead.

“You can’t let this one get off easy,” the dark angel said. “Deathbed confessions are so hard to take seriously.”

“I told stories about this on earth.” Jesus shrugged. “All that’s required for the debt being clear is the person’s acceptance of it. Doesn’t matter when. I already paid it.”

“But these sins were huge. Huge!” The dark angel narrowed his eyes as if he were playing his trump card. “How can you have mercy on someone who never had mercy on a single person in his whole life?”

“It isn’t mercy.” The deep growl of God’s voice vibrated through Isaiah’s bones. “It’s justice.”

The dark angel scoffed.

“It is justice,” Jesus said. “I paid his debt. He accepted the payment when he accepted me. You can’t make someone pay the same debt twice. My record of righteousness now stands in for his record of sins, as a gift. He couldn’t have worked out his own salvation, even if he’d been ‘a good person.’ I’ve already–”

“Heard you the first time.” The dark angel glared at Isaiah. “I thought you prophets were supposed to be all into pronouncing judgment. How can you be a part of this?”

Isaiah bared his teeth, but it wasn’t really a smile. “I was only ever the mouthpiece of my Lord.”

The dark angel rolled his eyes and disappeared with a pop.

“So….” Jesus turned to Isaiah.

“So mercy can grow thin, but justice–” Isaiah’s voice cracked.

“Justice has unavoidable logic,” Jesus said. “Sin creates a debt. A debt that must be paid. I’ve paid it. Nobody can pay twice for the same debt.” He glanced at the filing cabinet. “I wish they’d stop trying.”



Jesus the Toddler

This is not going to be about what Jesus was like as an actual toddler (although it’d be fun to imagine what a prayer to Jesus-as-toddler might be, a la Ricky Bobby’s prayer to Jesus-as-baby, “Dear Eight Pound, Six Ounce, Newborn Baby Jesus, in your golden, fleece diapers, with your curled-up, fat, balled-up little fists pawin’ at the air.”)

Instead, this is about flipping the usual parenting analogy. Most spiritual analogies that involve parenting have God as the Heavenly Parent and us as the unruly, slightly stupid, and really stubborn children. Here, we’re the parent and Jesus is the toddler.

Let me set it up.

I was reading Isaiah last week (in my 3-year-long journey to read the Bible from beginning to end, yes, I’m only up to Isaiah) and came across this from 59:9,10,12:

So there is no justice among us,
we know nothing about right living.
We look for light but find only darkness.
We look for bright skies but walk in gloom.
We grope like the blind along a wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes….
For our sins are piled up before God
and testify against us.

And the image of our sins piled up before God struck me. I imagined a tower of blocks — childhood toy blocks. Probably because those are the kinds of tall piles I’ve made, over and over, while playing with children, both mine and others’.

I stack the blocks and the kid knocks them down — gleefully. And cries, “Again!” I race to build as much of the tower as I can before the kid knocks it down. And then we do it all over again, and again, and again. The kid has endless energy for knocking that tower down.

Isn’t this like Jesus? We’ve got this tower of sins that blocks us from God and Jesus knocks it down. That’s what Christians celebrate at Easter.

I have a vivid mental image of a particular little boy I had in children’s worship last year who’d let me build a tower of blocks as tall as him before he’d bust it down with the most delicious belly laugh and victorious jumping up and down. I like this image for Jesus scattering my tower of sins because it punctures my angst and navel-gazing with a KAPOW!

But I’m not done.

Here’s where the analogy stretches a little, because it isn’t Jesus begging us to build up the tower of our sins again, it’s us. We take the things we’ve already been forgiven of, things that are laying scattered on the floor, and stack them back up. We cannot give them up.

I guess I’m assuming things about you, but I can tell you with full confidence that there’s a lot I have a hard time giving up.

  • Any stupid or unkind thing I’ve said.
  • Confidences I failed to keep.
  • Plans to help someone that I never acted on.
  • Disciplines I haven’t been able to keep up.
  • An unwise decision I made in college that I asked forgiveness for several times because I kept forgetting whether I’d done it.
  • Excessive use of sarcasm with my children.
  • Irritability with my family.
  • Anger and bitterness that I can leave on the floor for months before letting them sneak back up into a wall.
  • Crippling disappointment — I say “crippling” because there’s plenty of fleeting disappointment, but I’m talking about that Job-level of complaint, “I’ve done so many things right. Why isn’t X going like I want it to?” Which is really this in disguise: “I’d run my life so much better than you, God!”
  • The need to both be right and be acknowledged as right. About way too many things.
I ask to be forgiven and Jesus knocks down my tower, KAPOW. Then, while we’re laughing and gleeful, I scoop a few blocks back and stack them. Jesus knocks them down with a karate kick this time. I try to hide the tower, to prevent him from knocking it down, so I build it behind me. But he finds it and body slams it. Even while I’m smiling at some of those blocks that flew all the way across the room, out of my reach (for now), my fingers scrabble for other blocks and…. You get the picture.
In real life, I, the adult, get tired of this game long before the toddler does. Loooong before. Similarly, Jesus does not tire of knocking down my tower of sins. He’ll do it every time I ask.
What kind of difference might it make to pray, “Jesus, I’m tired, so tired of building up this particular tower. Help me keep that block on the floor”?
My prayers are getting simpler as I get older. And I tend not to dictate as much to God exactly how things should look or go, at least as far as my spiritual life goes. Because I don’t want to limit God’s creativity. Maybe, if I notice the tower I keep rebuilding and admit my exhaustion and ask for help, instead of just knocking it down, Jesus will shrink those blocks, a little more every time I ask, until they’re so small that I go to rebuild it and can’t find them. There may be new blocks, but at least Jesus will have taken care of those old ones.
What’s in your tower? Are you as tired as I am of rebuilding with the same $%*^ blocks, over and over again?


Do You Want to be Healed?

model of the Pools of Bethesda outside the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem
photo from


Nissim had staked out this base of operations before that kid had been born, and no upstart was going to take it from him. He poked the kid, hard, with the knot end of his olive wood cane. “Move along.”

The kid faced him, although there was no way he could see out of those clouded eyes. “But I need to be closer to the water. Other people always get there first and–”

“Bah.” If it hadn’t been a feast day, which always put Nissim in a good mood, the kid would’ve gotten another taste of the cane. “Dov, did you hear that? This kid’s trying to use the line I invented on me. Me.”

Dov snorted.

“What?” The kid looked honestly puzzled. “What line?”

Nissim went through it as though reciting a dull list. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I’m making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

“That’s it exactly,” the kid said. “Except I have no one to tell me when the angel stirs up the water and my family is coming back for me today and….” He trailed off as Dov and a few other nearby professional beggars laughed.

But Nissim was going to do this kid a favor. “I’m going to give it to you straight. Feel my legs.” He lifted his robe past his knees to display the twisted and scarred flesh and held the kid’s hand there. “This happened working on the tunnel to supply these pools. Rock slide. So I know. The Pools of Bethesda are fed by a gusher. Do you understand what that is?”

The kid snatched his hand back. “No.”

“That means that the water doesn’t flow smoothly.” Nissim didn’t bother keeping his voice low. He didn’t care who heard him. “The spring gushes out and then stops, gushes out and then stops. There is no angel. It’s nature.”

“So the healing?” The kid’s mouth was pursed like he’d eaten a sour berry.

Nissim looked to his left. “Ze’ev! How many times you made it first into the pool?”

Ze’ev closed one eye while he counted. “Five, including last Passover.”

“And how are your legs?”

“Quit teasing me,” Ze’ev said. “Got a huge haul that Passover, though. Those brothers who made sure I got in were so happy to watch me move around, they praised the Lord by giving me lots of silver.”

Some of the men laughed, and Dov called out, “Yeah, well, next time you haul the old wolf out of the water. He’s heavy.”

The men cat-called back and forth for awhile, but the kid leaned closer to Nissim.

“So it did work for awhile.” The kid was not giving up his hope easily.

Nissim sighed. “You’re not getting it. It looked like he could move because the water held him up. We had to wait ’til he convinced those brothers to leave before getting him out, or they’d know they were tricked.” He said his next words slowly, so they’d sink in. “There are no healing powers.”

The kid was as still as a Roman statue. “Then why are you here?”

“For the pilgrims,” Nissim said. “They come to wash their sheep or themselves before heading in to Jerusalem for feasts and sacrifices, and it makes them feel righteous to give to the less fortunate. We make it easy for them by being where they need to go anyway.” He put his meaty right hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Believe me, it’s better to know the truth.”

The kid shrugged off Nissim’s hand and scooted away.

“What’s up with the flood of true believers lately?” Dov said.

“It does seem like they’re thicker on the ground these days,” Nissim said.

Dov rubbed at a groove in the floor with his thumb nail. “Do you even remember what it was like to think the water would heal you?”

Nissim recoiled. “You used to believe?”

“When I first came,” Dov said. “Ten years ago.”

“Did you listen to anything I said to that kid? I knew it was a fraud from the beginning. I dug these tunnels. I know this spring.”

“No need to get heated up about it.” Dov held his palms open in a peace offering.

“Thirty-eight years I’ve lived with these.” Nissim slapped his knee.

Thankfully, Dov knew better than to give him any sympathy. “Think your brother’ll come in today?”

Nissim blew out a hard breath. “Hope not.” He rearranged himself against the wall of the arch. “But I’m not holding out much hope for that. He always keeps the feast days.”

They raised their eyebrows at each other in commiseration.

“Get back to your spot,” Nissim said. “Sun’s fully up. They’ll be coming soon.”

As Dov dragged himself back to his usual place, Nissim closed his eyes and rested the back of his head against the stone arch. He could hear muttering and yelling coming from closer to the water: the sound of outraged true believers. He didn’t enjoy dashing their dreams, but it was like lancing a boil. Someone had to do it. Sure, it hurt, but it’d be worse if the boil were allowed to fester. He’d watched more people than he could count refuse to start begging, and then waste away until they died, waiting for those waters to heal them.

Someone stepped into his light. There hadn’t been footsteps coming from the entrance, so it wasn’t a pilgrim. “Get out of my sun,” he snapped. “Can’t I have a moment’s peace?”

Whoever it was cleared his throat.

Nissim opened his eyes. It was a man like any other man: long hair, beard, rough wool clothing, sandals, belt with a good-sized water skin attached, no apparent physical problems, so he was probably a traveler. A potential donor. Nissim exhaled slowly and slumped his shoulders, shrinking into himself, giving the impression of weakness, but before he could deliver his line, the man spoke first.

“Do you want to be healed?”

“What?” Nobody had ever asked Nissim that before.

The man sat back on his haunches and held Nissim’s gaze. The look on his face wasn’t exactly challenging, but it wasn’t the pitying look Nissim was used to getting, either.

A prickly flush traveled from Nissim’s chest to his jaw. He glanced at the water. If the man was going to offer to carry him over and make sure he got there first, this was a convoluted way to go about it. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stir- stirred up–”

The man made a dismissive gesture at the pools and shook his head, no.

“But without anyone to help me,” Nissim forged ahead but he could barely get through it all, “someone else always steps ahead of me.”

“Do you want to be healed?”

What did this man mean, if he wasn’t talking about the water? He didn’t say anything else, but the longer Nissim locked eyes with this stranger, the clearer he heard the man’s voice in his head. It said, “We both know the pools can’t heal you, but do you want to be healed?”

Nissim squeezed his eyes shut. His heart pounded. He’d made himself cry dozens of times to impress onlookers, but this was the first time in over thirty years that he felt that pressure behind his eyes when he didn’t will it. He’d been begging for most of his life. What would he do if his legs worked again? Would his brother take him back?

He swallowed hard past the knot in his throat as he imagined rejoining his family, working in the olive groves, contributing to the running of the household again. His leg itched. He reached down to scratch it.

Damn legs. And damn man asking him impossible questions and making him think about what it would be like. This life wasn’t so bad when he had no hope of anything different. Of course he wanted to be healed. He also wanted to be wealthy and have his pick of young girls, but that wasn’t happening, either.

He slapped at his calves. Why did they have to choose now to hurt? The skin felt hot and tight, like he’d left them uncovered in the sun too long.

The man was still waiting for an answer.

Nissim glared at him and barely nodded his head.

“Stand up,” the man said, in the most ordinary, matter-of-fact way. “Take your mat and walk.”

A bitter sound escaped Nissim’s throat. So the man was one of those nuts who thought he could heal people. All the man was doing now was smiling. Nissim should’ve noticed it earlier. Only crazy people would calmly ask such a cruel question. It was his fault that he got taken in by it. “Hey, Dov,” he leaned to the side so he could see around the man, “we’ve got a live one here.”

The man grinned at that, stood, and left without another word.

Nissim’s legs were still burning and itching. Did a bunch of ants get under his tunic? He scraped the fabric back to check–

He couldn’t breathe.

Where was that man? What had happened? Nissim craned his head around, but the man was gone.

Finally, he gasped. This was a dream. He closed his eyes and counted to seven breaths before looking at his legs again. There they were. They weren’t pretty, but they weren’t twisted anymore. Would they remember what to do? After so many years of lying fallow, would they be strong enough?

He put his hands first under his right thigh and moved it into a bent position. The knee pointed straight up at the sky. Nissim almost laughed. The same thing happened with his left leg. His feet rested squarely on the stone floor. Squarely. As if they hadn’t spent almost forty years bent at that horrible angle. He pushed against the floor until he was in a crouch, but he didn’t pick up his hands until he was almost sure his legs would hold him.

They did.

Pilgrims were streaming past him now, and his friends were making their cries, but none of it made an impression on him.

He tucked his elbow into a seam in the arch and leaned into it with all his strength. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his upper lip as he flexed his thighs and forced his body up. Black dots crowded his vision and made him dizzy, so he had to rest against the wall for awhile, but that soon cleared. And he was standing.


He expected to hear cheers and shouts, but everyone was so busy with their own pursuits, that nobody noticed he was upright for the first time in anyone’s memory.

So he did the rest of what the man had told him to do. He bent over, rolled up his mat, picked it up and put one foot in front of another, gingerly at first, but soon more confidently. He couldn’t stop watching the movement of his legs: he was walking.

“Hey!” Someone grabbed his sleeve. “You can’t do that.”

“I know.” Nissim grinned. “But I can now.”

“What?” It was one of the religious leaders. “You can’t carry your mat on the Sabbath.”

Nissim stared at him for a heartbeat and then laughed.

“It isn’t funny.” The leader’s bushy eyebrows shook in his indignation, which only made Nissim laugh harder. “You can’t work on the Sabbath. The law doesn’t allow you to carry that mat.”

“Tell that to the man who healed me.”

The leader bunched Nissim’s sleeve tighter in his fist. “What did you just say?”

“Don’t you recognize me? I’ve been sitting at that arch for over thirty years. I don’t know your name, but you’ve given me food and wine every feast day for ages. Without my believing it was possible, a man just came, healed me, and told me to pick up my mat and walk.”

“Who would say such a thing?”

Nissim shrugged. “He didn’t stick around.”

Neither did the leader, who rushed off as if something terrible had just happened.

What should he do now? Go to his brother’s? His legs were feeling good, but were they strong enough to walk across the Mount of Olives? They probably couldn’t handle that yet. But they could handle walking into Jerusalem. He had enough bits of silver that he could even pay the temple tax to see what everyone raved on about.

Being upright in a crowd was different from being seated while the crowd passed by. Before, strangers would avoid him, as if touching him would give them his lameness. Now, he was jostled and elbowed and almost tripped several times. He made his way over to a wall.

He wanted to yell at these people, “Watch it! I was just healed. Thirty-eight years I sat by the Pools of Bethesda, waiting for the waters to heal me, until a man took pity on me and spoke to me, and that’s all it took. Look at me now. I’m walking like any one of you. But ask any of the men by the pool and they’ll tell you that this morning, I was one of them. Now, I’m one of you.”

Maybe he should give such a speech. Imagine how much silver and food and wine people would give him. Then he’d really be able to come back to his brother with–

A man stepped into his line of sight. It was the man. Nissim raised his arms and prepared to announce to everyone who this was and what had happened, but the man wasn’t smiling.

“Now you are well, so stop sinning.”

Nissim dropped his arms and squinted up at him. “Sinning?”

The man nodded.

“But I’m just standing here.”

“Stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.”

And then the man walked away without explaining what he meant. “Hey! Come back!” Nissim pushed through a few people, but his legs weren’t strong enough to follow the man.

The leader who’d scolded him at the Pools grabbed his sleeve again. “Was that the man?” The leader barely waited long enough for Nissim to confirm it before taking off after him, a bunch of cronies in tow.

Nissim was left standing in an archway at the Temple. Should he go straight to his brother’s? Or stick around here to see what business he could drum up out of this healing? Or go back to the Pools where people knew him? And what did the man mean by sinning?