Do you ever wonder who Jesus would be hanging out with if He were with us in the flesh today? Who are the “outsiders” that we’d be astonished to see Him with? The modern-day equivalent of the Samaritan woman at the well? The down-on-their-luck, left-behind and forgotten, sick and outcast whom He’d notice with compassion?
Jesus did things so differently than we might expect. I’ll never forget one afternoon when His seemingly backwards way of doing things really gave me pause.
I was reading in Luke 7, about Jesus’ encounter with Simon the Pharisee and a “woman from the town who lived a sinful life.” While dining at Simon’s house, Jesus is approached by the woman, and she wets His feet with her tears, wipes them clean, and pours perfume on them. Simon is appalled and says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who is touching him, and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Jesus confronts Simon’s silent judgement, and defends the woman’s actions.
This was a familiar story to me; I had read it before. But this time I was moved by an undeniable conviction: If I were to identify with anyone in this story, it would, without a doubt, be Simon. Ashamed, I knew that I also would have pridefully looked down at the woman and been astonished at Jesus for what He was allowing to happen. I would have sat back in my superiority, my supposed righteousness, and pronounced judgement on this woman, even if only in my head.
I’ve been a “good person” most of my life. I’ve followed the rules. I’ve done and said the right things. I’ve gone to church since I was in the womb. I believed I was an “insider,” like Simon. I thought this had earned me righteousness. But that afternoon in my reading, the Spirit showed me that my status as a “church person” really afforded me nothing at all. Instead, my attitude of superiority and pride quite solidified my place among the sinners. Ouch!
It was humbling, to say the least. I was so sure I was an “insider”—doing what I thought God wanted, thinking I was righteous and holy. I missed how entirely I was “outside” Christ’s way of thinking—His model of humility and service, of noticing the neglected. I, like many Pharisees we read about in the New Testament, had no idea just how mistaken I was. I didn’t look like Jesus. I didn’t even look like the sinful woman, who had been forgiven much and loved much (Luke 7:47). I looked like Simon.
Jesus’ Radical Approach Lives On
One of the texts I’ve been responsible for teaching the last seven years is the book of Acts. It has undoubtedly become one of my favorites. What I see in Acts is a continuation of Jesus’ rather upside-down kingdom. Shockingly, His gospel proclamation continues to go to the “outsiders”—not the seemingly holy superheroes, not the rich and royal. For example, Philip speaks with a eunuch, who would have been considered unclean by Jewish tradition. Peter stays with a tanner, a leather-worker who would have dealt with dead animals and blood all the time. He would definitely have been considered “unclean.” If we were looking at this from a PR perspective, we would think Jesus’ followers were making a mess of this whole thing. But how wrong we would be!
This is convicting to me. I must confess, I’m not sure I find myself in circles of people that are outside the “church world.” My friends, my colleagues, my family—they seem to all exist in this “church bubble.” The more I think about this, the more I realize that if Jesus were to come in the flesh to visit, He’d be with the “sinners”—the prostitutes and drug dealers, and liars and thieves and murderers. He says the doctor comes not for the healthy, but for the sick (Mark 2:17). How I’ve made such a judgment of those people in my head, and how wrong I am! These are the people that I imagine Jesus would say have been forgiven much, and thus they can love much.
Keeping the Right Posture
I’m also humbled, because if I imagine beginning to relate to these people and getting to know them, my mind automatically goes to what I could do for them, or what I could give them, or teach them. I see this even in the way I approach my classroom as a teacher—I want to fix their problems, and enlighten them to what’s the best way. But if I’m to arrive at any relationship, really, with an attitude of superiority, as if others should be grateful that I’ve deemed to help them, then I’m again just as bad as Simon at that dinner.
Instead, when I arrive among those who are different than me, I feel very confident that what I should do is watch, listen, ask questions, and befriend. I think that I might find that these fellow “outsiders” have more to teach me than I have to teach them. I learn from my students all the time: their perspective, their willingness, curiosity, desire for justice, and more. Oh, how I could benefit from getting outside of myself and my bubble and my supposed “righteous superiority!” Lord, forgive me for ever thinking I was better because of my supposed religious pedigree.
Graciously, the Spirit revealed a hardness and lack of compassion in my heart through this story in Luke 7. But also with grace, He hasn’t left me as I am, dwelling in shame . . .
In Luke 7:40-47, I see how compassionate Jesus is to Simon. Simon deserves to be put in his place for how he’s acted and what he’s thought, how he has judged others. Jesus, instead of shaming him, teaches him through storytelling. Simon, a sinner like the woman he judged, isn’t forgotten. His soul matters to Jesus too. For this, as a fellow Simon, I’m humbled and grateful.
How gracious you are, Jesus!