Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How bad is bad enough?

Excluding the damaged
We visited Finch Park this evening. Anne brought along bread to feed the mean, hissing geese. Our dog Henry even got in on the fun, barking his happy barks. We noticed that one of the geese was damaged. He swam using just one leg. The damaged goose kept his distance from the others. Then I saw why. It seems that the others were rather vicious towards him when he came near. Anne said that some birds are that way. Sadly, so are some people.

Damaged people often receive our cruelty rather than our compassion. This should never be the case among God’s children. After all, weren’t we all once damaged ourselves?

Are you a bad person?
One day Jesus was invited to join a Pharisee, a devoutly religious man, for a meal. While they ate, a woman who was known for her sinfulness (she may even have been a prostitute) entered. The woman began to weep. Her tears fell on Jesus’ feet as he reclined at the table. She washed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them again and again, and then poured perfume onto them.

The Pharisee who invited Jesus thought to himself that perhaps Jesus wasn’t a prophet after all, otherwise he would have recognized what kind of woman she was.

Jesus then asked the man one of those powerful probing questions that still challenge us today:

"A certain moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have judged correctly." And turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. "You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. "You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." And He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." Luke 7:41-48

I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should all go out and do a bunch of nasty stuff so that we can love him better. I think he is reminding us that God has a special relationship with and attraction to those who see their own need. People who are humble, broken, and desperate are magnetic to God. They’re the kind of people he gives extra grace to (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). He draws close to those with broken hearts and contrite spirits (Psalm 51:17; 34:18; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2).

Becoming bad enough
In a way, I hope you can say that you are a bad person – or at least that you were. It turns out that people who were once very bad make the best Christians. Paul the Apostle, for instance, said he was the worst sinner of all (1 Tim 1:15). Paul was a very bad person. Who loved and served Jesus better than Paul? Or what about Peter? He repeatedly denied Jesus in front of people. Just shortly after that Peter, filled with the Spirit, preached the first Christian sermon. After that he began an amazing healing ministry.

May we grow close to our holy God and see ourselves as we are – imperfect. May we have experiences reminiscent of Isaiah’s when that godly man cried out, “Woe is me! For I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips.”

When we see our own inadequacy we learn to lean on and love our God. When we remember our sinfulness we learn to show compassion toward the damaged among us.

Photo by Jim Ario