The start of the new year usually feels refreshing and exciting, but this year was different for me. I’m weary and doing everything I can to hold onto Galatians 6:9, which says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Like a rock climber halfway to the top with sweaty hands, fatigued muscles, and a resolved mind, I am bent on not giving up.
This past year, I walked through a lot of heavy things with students as a Gracestudents Director, and also with my friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor to be there for others, but I’m feeling the effect of the storms. Like an athlete helping an injured teammate limp off the field, I’m bearing the weight of their pain and feeling the weight of their suffering. This is the beauty and pain of genuine family. As followers of Jesus, we are vessels of His love, grace, hope, and truth, especially in tough times (Galatians 6:2).
With Shaky Hands and a Broken Heart
There’s a story in Luke 7 about a sinful woman, who interacted with Jesus in an unconventional way, in a Pharisee’s home. We are not told what her sins were, but I’m sure they were many and she regularly experienced rejection and shame. Pharisees were the religious leaders in Biblical times. They maintained power by enforcing religious laws that were impossible to keep. On the outside, their lives looked good, but their hearts were littered with pride, control, and self-righteousness.
They were assuming the role of gatekeepers in the kingdom of God – a role they were never meant to have – and their misguided leadership hurt many people. It seemed that their focus was on keeping people out of the kingdom of God, not ushering them in.
But, Jesus was different from the Pharisees and regularly approached sinners. It’s like He was laser focused on the outcasts, the ones who thought they would never be accepted into the family of God. When this woman approached Him, it says in Luke 7:38-39, “As she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”
This woman, so grieved by her sins and pain, didn’t feel worthy to face Jesus. Instead, she knelt at His feet. She was so desperate for healing and a place to belong, but didn’t feel like she deserved it. Imagine the turmoil and pain in her heart. I wonder what happened in her life that led her down a path of despair and destruction. How many times had she been scorned by her peers or other religious leaders? How did she muster up the courage to approach Jesus in a Pharisee’s home of all places? That took guts and I can only imagine how terrified and nervous she was to step foot in his home. With shaky hands and her stomach in knots, she walked in, determined to meet Jesus, praying He was the answer to all her troubles.
The Posture of a Pharisee
How many people in our culture today are just like this woman? How many people think they are not worthy to be in the presence of Jesus because of less than favorable interactions with Christians, or misconceptions about how the kingdom of God should function? There are so many people who feel rejected, shamed, and despised by the church, and they struggle to envision the family of God as a place of belonging. Whether they’ve experienced rejection personally, or have heard horror stories from others, they have decided to find sanctuary somewhere else rather than risking the pain again.
My heart grieves as I write this because I’ve seen this too much in students’ lives. Whether it happened to them personally, or to their peers, they are looking for something different. They need a place to belong and unfortunately they don’t see the church being that safe space.
It’s the posture of the Pharisee, the side comments and snide remarks from people who claim to know Jesus, and the lack of compassion and empathy that have stirred up fear and angst in the hearts of the lost. As Christians who represent Jesus to the world, have we lost focus? Have we become like the Pharisee in Luke 7 who looked down upon the woman washing Jesus’s feet? Are we too focused on keeping people out of God’s Kingdom rather than doing everything we can to invite them in? How can we return to our original purpose? The kingdom of God functions at its best when we know who we are, know our roles, and carry them out in the way God designed.
Who Does God Invite into His Kingdom?
Notice how Jesus responds to the woman and the Pharisee in Luke 7:44-47: “Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
In front of the very people who probably shamed her, Jesus affirms her. He uses her act of love to show the Pharisees that God’s Kingdom is a place for sinners in need of a Savior just like her. He turns the religious system upside down. The Pharisees, who were following all the rules for years attempting to get closer to God, were no closer to God than the sinful woman. They missed it. And the woman, whom they despised and shamed, was highlighted by Jesus to show them who God is inviting into His kingdom and what the response should be.
Jesus was near to that woman in that moment because of her humility, desperation, and act of love. The posture of the Pharisees kept them from being near to Jesus. Their pride hindered them from displaying that much passion and vulnerability. Their desire for power, control, and safety prevented them from inviting outcasts into the kingdom of God.
If we’re not careful, we can fall into the same trap. May we be people of Ephesians 4:15-16 who speak the truth in love, grow in maturity towards Jesus, and promote the growth of the body of Christ. May we be a sanctuary for the lost, hurting, and broken – a place where they experience Grace-Centered Truth. Let’s meet them where they are and introduce them to Jesus, who sees, knows, and loves them, and who can change their lives forever.
Want to learn more about the Kingdom of God? Join us for an 8-week series on The Kingdom: Becoming a Citizen of Heaven on Earth.