A few Sundays back Justin (my husband) preached about the "sinful woman" who washed Jesus' feet with her tears at a dinner hosted by Simon, the Pharisee. As Justin read the text, words printed across the above-stage screen, I heard and read a phrase that powerfully affected me.
About Jesus, Luke writes, "Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon..."
It's this exact positional shift I'm convinced the church--the body of Christ--needs to make: turning away from proud people inside the church system and toward people outside it (while simultaneously continuing to speak to insiders). In this moment, Jesus shows concern for both Simon, too proud to embrace the woman, and the woman, too overwhelmed and messy to adhere to Simon's behavioral expectations. Jesus cares about both. But He turns toward the woman.
In this scenario today, we play the role of Christ. Will we turn toward those in church-world who judge and exclude the lost, catering to their egos and whitewashing the church's activities? Or will we turn toward sinners, offering rescue and cleansing?
We can only face in one direction.
If you're wondering where you're facing right now, consider these questions:
- Who am I most concerned about offending?
- Do I spend more time talking about the fineprint of doctrine than I do looking for ways to reach people in need of saving?
- Am I quicker to hold insiders accountable for their sins or point my finger at outsiders because of theirs?
As we try to practically apply this posture, orienting our bodies/congregations toward sinners we must...
- make ourselves, our message, and our lifestyle accessible.
- make "programming" for their blessing, not our comfort.
- devote a hefty chunk of our financial budget and corporate energy their way.
- listen to voices who don't yet echo the voice of Christ--really listen.
- be willing to get messy.
- seek meaningful relationships outside the body (not filling every social slot on the calendar with "church people").
It might even mean risking your reputation or being tagged in a "compromising" Facebook picture.
It also means turning away from voices who would limit or shortchange (or even blockade) the church's outreach to "sinners," those who in their self-absorption see sinners primarily as a barrier to their own comfort.
And as we turn away, we have a responsibility to continue our conversation with those who are proud, blind, and misunderstanding.
The other day I overheard my husband say he liked to think later, after the cross and resurrection, that maybe Simon came around. That maybe all he needed was some time and truth to soften his hard heart and open his blind eyes. I like to think that, too.
I haven't always been good about seeking and saving the lost. I've spent too much time among the crustier parts of church "establishment." And if a few wise friends hadn't been patient with me, if in turning toward the lost they'd stopped talking to me, I might have ended up stranded in a white-washed tomb. Instead, they kept talking (letting Jesus talk through them), and I kept listening.
Today, most of the time anyway, I don't feel like Simon.
Ask yourself today, "Am I committed to keeping the conversation going with Christians who've closed their hearts to the lost?" And, "Will I offer grace even to people who aren't likely to offer it to others?"
Let's commit to personally and collectively change positions. Let's turn toward the people who need us and away from the people who'd hold us back. At the same time, let's continue to speak wisdom in the direction of today's Pharisees. You never know who might have a change of heart.
**I can't figure out who created the image I used for today's post. If you recognize it, please pass along the artist's name.