One of the defining characteristics of Jesus was that he loved all people, regardless of who they were or what they had done. Matthew, a tax collector in Jesus’ day, was at the bottom of society’s barrel and yet Jesus had dinner with him and other “tax collectors and sinners” at Matthew’s house (Matthew 9:10). He also spoke to a Samaritan women at a well, not caring that it was taboo for Jews to associate with Samaritans, let alone a woman who had 5 previous husbands and was currently with a man who was not her husband (John 4:7-18). Jesus had compassion on lepers, who were shunned by society, and wasn’t afraid to touch them (Matthew 8:3). And Jesus, in the company of the religious leaders or Pharisees, allowed a woman who “lived a sinful life” to shed tears on his feet, wipe them with her hair, kiss his feet and pour perfume on them (Luke 7:36-38).
That’s a whole lot of humanity, isn’t it?
I have an honest confession to make: some of those accounts make me a little uncomfortable. And there are circumstances I’ve experienced in my life that made me uncomfortable, simply because people who were quite different from me were involved.
But you know what?
Jesus wouldn’t have been uncomfortable at all.
He would have welcomed everyone with open arms, just the way they were.
That’s challenging for us who consider ourselves Christ followers, isn’t it. Sometimes we turn our heads away from what makes us uncomfortable rather than moving toward it and showing the kind of love and compassion Jesus did. Maybe if we just don’t look over there, it will go away and nothing will be required of us. Or maybe if we just speak our minds and convince others we’re “right”, we’ll feel better about our own behaviors.
Was Jesus’ complete acceptance of sinners an indication that sin was acceptable to him? The answer is no. But Jesus knew that in order for people to trust him, he had to demonstrate how much he valued them before sin issues could be addressed. We see this clearly in the story of the woman caught in adultery and who the Pharisees wanted to stone to death. They brought her before Jesus to hear what he had to say about her punishment, and much to their surprise Jesus answered…
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) As the Pharisees let his response sink in, they began leaving one-by-one until only Jesus and the woman remained. “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.'” (John 8:10-11)
Isn’t that beautiful? Teaching his audience that sin affects all people, Jesus didn’t condemn her. Instead, he gave her grace.
So Christians, what would it look like to model Jesus’ example in our own lives? What if when we…
…meet someone who doesn’t believe in God…
…witness a fellow Christian say or do something that isn’t Christ-like…
…meet someone living on the street because of their own personal choices…
…learn that our neighbor has given in to their addiction again…
…meet someone who has apparent disdain for us…
…feel wounded by the words or behaviors of our parents, sibling, spouse or children…
…we choose to love them anyway?
God’s love transforms.
When Jesus loved Matthew, Matthew’s life was changed as he became one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples. The Samaritan woman, knowing she had spoken with the savior of the world, went back and shared her encounter with the other Samaritans in her town, who also became believers in Christ. The leper was healed. The sinful woman’s fallen tears and tender act of reverence moved Jesus so much that he forgave her sins. The adulterous woman was given a second chance.
You probably have your own story of how God has changed your life through His love. I do, too. So my prayer is that as Christians, our first response to others is to simply demonstrate God’s love. If positive change is needed in any situation, leave the changing part up to God.
He’s really good at that.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)