Thursday, August 6, 2015

Faithful Sinners

Yesterday, I noted that this world is holding us to the standard of the Pharisee - expecting of us not to follow the example of Jesus, but merely to quote His words and to embrace this world's interpretation of them. I hate to break it to you, but as Christians, we're doing this to each other, too. We're holding each other to the standard of how we interpret Jesus, not how we witness Him.

In the 90s, the catch phrase was WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? But we have all but abandoned that entire idea in favor of WWJS: What Would Jesus Say? 

Or worse yet - WDJS: What DID Jesus Say?

The trouble is that we're very good at quoting Him in word, but not in spirit. And we're very good at quoting half-words at each other, trying to get other Christians to interpret Jesus precisely the same way we do. Trying to get them to buy into our understandings and traditions. We, too, are the Pharisees. We can't understand how anyone thinks about this God thing differently than we do. 

Here's perhaps one of the greatest troubles we get into - the idea that Jesus is not for everybody. No, most of us probably wouldn't say it so brazenly, but we're in the habit of judging not sin, but sinners, and determining who we think is so far outside the will of God that there's just not place in our church, or in our community, for persons such as them. 

Yes, I'm talking about homosexuals. 

That's it for most of us. But I'm also talking about persons with other stories. I'm talking about divorced men and women, who still aren't welcome in some congregations. I'm talking about persons who have fought hard battles, be they medical or emotional or spiritual, who come back to their churches to find there's barely a place left for them. They can come to the church, but they can no longer be a part of the church. Don't expect the church to help them any more. I'm talking about young women who have had abortions and young men who...ah, who's kidding? We only care about the impure young women; the impure young men are far more redeemable. 

I'm talking about everyone we look at and decide that the church is not for them. I'm talking about the people we decide God cannot possibly love, and then declare that we don't have to, either. I'm talking about the way we can read a half-story of Jesus and justify our position on this, without looking at the rest of the story and the rest of His ministry. And I'm talking about the way we denigrate anyone who would let such sinners into their churches, who would go against our understanding and our righteous authority and dare to disagree with us about how Jesus did it. 

There was a woman, a Canaanite woman, who once came to Jesus, begging for the life of her child. She fell at Jesus' feet and pleaded for His healing power, and Jesus turned to her and said, "Sorry. I came for these people, not for you people."

And that's where we stop. That's what we look at and say, see? Jesus didn't come for all sinners. He came only for faithful sinners. Then we feel all good about ourselves because we are the faithful sinners. 

Faithful sinners indeed....

But look at the rest of the story. The woman continues to plead for her child's sake. She humbles herself, declaring that she is the lowest of the low, even calling herself a dog. A dog! Were anyone in our outcast groups to call themselves a dog today, we would look right at them with unflinching eyes and declare, "Yes you are! I'm so glad you finally see it, you wretch!" But Jesus said nothing about her canine status. What He said was an affirmation of her faith - your great faith has secured for you what you ask. It turns out...this woman, this wretched woman, this disgusting Canaanite, this outsider...was the faithful sinner after all. 

And what of the other faithful sinners our Lord encountered? What of the woman caught in adultery? The serial bride by the well? The skim-off-the-top tax collector? The paralytic on the mat (whose sins, you'll remember, are forgiven before his iniquity is healed)? What of you, you faithful sinner? What of me? 

If you want to read half-stories of Jesus, you can justify just about anything you want to do. You can preach yourself blue in the face to other Christians and berate them for not holding dear your interpretations. You can pretend that you have the moral high ground. After all, is this not what Jesus said? 

But it's not about what Jesus said. It's never been about what Jesus said. Because Jesus never spoke the greatest of all things; He demonstrated them. He showed them. He gave them. How can you put words to something so amazing as grace? You can't. Grace is not something you speak; it's something you give. Generously. How can you simply say you're redeeming the world? You can't. You walk to Calvary, a cross on your shoulders. How can you say something so wonderful as love? You can't. You live it. 

We have to stop harping on each other about what Jesus said, or what we think Jesus said, or how we interpret what Jesus said. The story isn't about what Jesus said. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - the never set out to tell us what Jesus said; their Gospels are about what Jesus did. And He didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about it.

So you want to think you're getting this Jesus thing right? You want to believe you hold the secret? Stop talking the way Jesus talked and start loving the way He loved. Start serving up grace like it's free. Because it is. Start dishing out mercy like you're drowning in the stuff. Because you are. Start loving like there's nothing better you can do with your life. Because there's not.

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