Jesus’ Radical Acceptance of People

Jesus' Acceptance of "Sinful" People

Commentary on Luke 7:36-50

In this passage of Luke, Jesus does the unheard of and accepts a woman who religious people have labeled as "sinful". As much as we like to say that we follow Jesus, religious people still have a hard time embracing people who haven't cleaned up their act. We think that teaching people to act like us is going to make people want to follow Jesus. We think it is our job to fix people we have deemed as "sinful". Jesus saw things differently. He accepted people and his acceptance changed them.

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In Luke 7: A religious leader, Simon the Pharisee, invited Jesus over to his house for dinner.

Back in those days, dining was much different than today. People reclined around tables and meals were displays of who you were associated with. Important people had important people over for important discussions about important things. Their after-dinner discussions were so important, that their dinning areas were often open for people to come in and listen to be enlightened by their brainy philosophical discussions.

As Jesus was reclining at the religious leader’s home, it is most likely that one of these highbrow religious discussions was going on. Super pretentious religious folks were pontificating pontificatable things.

The Cultural Significance of Being Called "the sinful woman".

In the town where this was happening, a certain woman heard that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. Luke refers to this woman as a woman who “lived a sinful life”. Many assume that she was a prostitute, which is probably a legitimate assumption. All we know for sure though is that she lived a life style of repeatedly breaking the religious rules.

Later in the story, Simon, the Pharisee gives the added detail that she was known around town as a sinful woman. This wasn't just a detail added by Luke for the readers' benefit, it was a detail everyone in the story knew.  

She was labeled in her town as a “sinner”. Not a fun thing to ever be labeled as, but back in ancient Israel, it was worse. It meant more than that she had done something wrong. It was a repeated offense in her lifestyle (which is why many assume prostitute). It meant that she was on the outside of religion. She was one of the people literally thought of as “dirty”. Contact with her made a person ceremonially “unclean”. If you wanted right standing with God, the belief was that you needed to cleanse yourself from any association with such a woman.

Jesus' acceptance of the sinful woman was shocking  

This woman came to the home of the Pharisee, the place where she would be judged the most harshly, and she brought a very expensive alabaster jar of perfume.

As the crowds from the street stood around listening to the religious discussion, this woman made her way to stand behind Jesus. She began to weep. She let the tears fall onto Jesus’ feet.

Then, she did something completely shocking for that society, she let her hair down in public. This was usually only done in private and was considered intimate.

As a woman, who was “known as a sinful woman”, I’m sure she was used to shame from religious leaders, so the beauty of what she did brings me to tears every time I picture it. She subjected herself to their judgment and she let her hair down and dried her tears from Jesus’ feet. She then kissed his feet and poured her expensive perfume on them.

The job of washing someone’s feet was the lowliest job for the lowliest servant. This woman went into a crowd of people, knowing they were ready to condemn her. And she endured their scorn for the opportunity to offer this service to Jesus in the most over the top worshipful way possible. She humiliated herself in front of a crowd of people who already looked down on her. She showed deep sorrow, devotion and humility with her actions.

The religious response to Jesus acceptance.

The Pharisee, who was hosting the dinner was not impressed. He judged that Jesus could not possibly be a prophet. He assumed that Jesus did not know what kind of unclean sinner was touching him. It didn’t even occur to him that Jesus could know and allow it. The fact that Jesus was associating himself so intimately with this woman in public proved to Simon that Jesus couldn’t possibly be a prophet.

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
— Luke 7:40-43

Jesus, knew Simon’s heart and how he was misjudging the woman. And as only Jesus can do, he got to the heart of the matter with a simple story.

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then the story gets AMAZING!!!

Jesus judged the religious people

Jesus turned away from Simon and acknowledged the woman: the woman Simon and the other religious leaders viewed as unclean. He directed everyone’s attention to her and then made her an example of how they ought to be.

“When I came into your home, you didn’t even offer me the common hospitality of giving me water to rinse my feet. But this woman, went far beyond common hospitality, she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Your attitude toward me when I came in, shows that you did not welcome me as an equal. You didn’t even great me with a kiss as an equal. But this woman from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t offer to refresh me from the dry desert heat with oil, but she poured perfume on my feet.

It appears that Simon arrogantly invited Jesus in with some sort of agenda. Since Simon didn’t offer Jesus basic ancient hospitality, he obviously did not consider Jesus to be an honored guest. Since Jesus was not an officially approved Pharisee, I assume that Simon’s invitation had an air of “wow me and maybe I will give you my approval” to it.

But Jesus had no need to gain Simon’s approval. He shocked everyone present by allowing himself to be associated with the “sinful woman”.

Then he disassembled their whole religious system for judging people as “clean and in” or “unclean and out”.

To the complete shock of everyone there, Jesus acknowledged that he knew about this woman's “many sins” AND he accepted her! It was if he read Simon's thoughts and said, "Oh yeah, Simon, I'm more than I prophet. I know about all of her sins and yours too. And her many sins are being forgiven. 

 

 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

Religion Can't Accept it Being This Easy

 

This is another of those scenes where I imagine a mini cyclone being created by all of the people gasping intensely. NO ONE could forgive sins, only God. And it seems they were pretty convinced that God only forgave the sins of the religious elite. As Simon stood there, red-faced, everyone else whispered about the implications of Jesus saying that he forgave the woman’s sins.       

And in a final beautiful act, Jesus did something even more amazing. He continued to acknowledge this woman who was a social outcast. He looked at her and he told her “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus had already told the woman that her sins were forgiven. This statement took it even further.  This wasn't forgiveness which got her into heaven but left to live her life in remorseful shame never able to overcome her sinful past. No!!! Jesus commended her faith and told her to go in peace. He gave her peace as she tried to sort out a new life free from the mess that she had made out of it so far.

Religion screams, "This can't be! She hasn’t proven herself yet". She walked in as the woman known around town as sinful. All she did was worship Jesus in a beautiful humble display. That can't possibly be all it takes. NO! Religion says she must get her act together. She must prove that she is repentant. She must obey all of the rules. Then she can be in, (but still filled with shame as an example to others).

 But Jesus said, she was “in” because she had faith that HE could save her messed up sinful life. 

 

 

The Religious Struggle is the Same Today

 That's way too easy! Didn’t she still need to go clean up her act before she could be in?

That’s what religion still says. That’s what I struggle with believing.

But Jesus accepts people. He loves them and his love and acceptance changes them.

Why do we take Jesus' message of love and acceptance and make it into a new religion based on an American way of judging people? Jesus accepted people, THEN his love changed them. Our condemning judgments don't change anyone.(tweet this!)

Who are the people in our town who are known as “sinful” or unclean? The people in our town who would never come to church. The people who deep down we consider “unredeemable”. The people whose lifestyle makes us cringe.

Can we share Jesus’ love and acceptance with them before they change or do they have to get really good at religion first?

I'm trying to grow in this, but I still want to fix everyone first!

My prayer for us to accept people the way Jesus did

Lord, help me to learn to love like you. Help me see past the messes people are caught up in and genuinely want the best for them. Help me to always represent you well in the way I love and accept others. Lord help us be more aware of our own sinfulness and less judgmental of other people's mistakes. Thank you for loving me despite all of my repeated screw ups and my rotten attitude towards church people.

 

 

Blessings my friends!

Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!!!