Too Quick to Judge? How to Make the Church More Like Jesus
There’s a great story in the book of Luke about Jesus going to a dinner party at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Despite modern connotations, the Pharisees were the church elite in Jesus’s day. They memorized tons of scripture, gave eloquent prayers, and attended church every time it was open. By all appearances, they had dedicated their lives to God.
So, Jesus goes to this high-and-mighty guy’s house, and as they’re sitting around the table, a woman with a bad reputation comes in uninvited. She’s not like most people who seek out Jesus: she doesn’t have leprosy, she’s not blind or lame, she doesn’t have a family member who is unwell. What ails her is her lifestyle.
This woman—a prostitute—sits at Jesus’s bare feet and begins to weep. Her tears wet his feet, which are filthy from a day of walking the dirt roads of Judea. She wipes them off with her hair, then proceeds to pour expensive oil on them. (Wonder where she got the money for that…).
How does Jesus react to her behavior? He doesn’t, actually. And his lack of reaction is incredibly powerful.
Jesus allows this woman living a life defined by sin to touch and bathe his feet in public. He doesn’t ask her to stop. He doesn’t recoil. He doesn’t even ask her to wait until they’re not sitting at the dinner table. Instead, he accepts her touch and her tears. He permits her to be close to him in this intimate way, performing the same washing of feet that he would later undertake with his own disciples at their last meal together.
Simon, hosting the dinner party where this scene is taking place, thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known… she is a sinner.”
It’s tempting to criticize Simon for this response, but don’t be too quick to judge. I worry that Simon’s reaction to this prostitute approaching Jesus is a picture of the American church today.
There is a dangerous habit among Christians where we judge and exclude people who sin in ways we don’t. Some have become very concerned with conformity of behavior before they’ll let other into their community. We have forgotten that heart change comes before behavior change.
There is zero indication in the Bible that this woman had cleaned up her act before she came to Jesus. He allows her to come and to sit at his feet and experience him just as she is. Shouldn’t we want this for all sinners? And yet, how would many churchgoers feel if they found this prostitute who washed Jesus’s feet sitting next to them at church this coming Sunday?
There’s a dangerous undercurrent in this flavor of church tribalism. If we want people to get their act together before they experience Jesus, we have forgotten that we were once the exact same way. We have forgotten that we were completely and utterly dead in our sins when Jesus rescued us. We didn’t turn around our lives first so that we were attractive enough for Jesus to save.
He rescued us when we were dead.
He changed our hearts.
And our behavior change followed.
The church must be a place where those who are broken by sin can come and experience Jesus.
But, it’s critical to note that Jesus doesn’t minimize sinfulness. After he allows this woman to be with him and experience him, he says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven.”
Her sins are many. Jesus recognizes this and wants her to experience reconciliation and renewal. But he does not allow her brokenness to be a barrier to relationship with him.
The church must live in this winsome and loving tension. We must embrace and welcome those who are living lives of sin, while at the same time enabling and encouraging an encounter with the one who can rescue them.
May we never forget where we came from or from what we were rescued, and may the Christian tribe be as welcoming as its Savior.
Wondering how to make the church a place where people look more like Jesus? Read more about why Crossing pastors Keith Simon and Patrick Miller wrote a book to share about their experience and how we can choose truth over tribe.