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Jesus and Sinners

     As soon as I saw my article topic, a passage came to mind: Luke 7: 36-49. I suppose that might have something to do with the fact that it is a personal favorite of mine. But more pertinently, it is a story that perfectly illustrates the love that Jesus has for sinners.

    A Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to eat with him. During the meal, a woman, who is identified in the Pharisee’s mind as “a sinner,” entered his home with a flask of expensive ointment. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the oil. Simon’s inner thoughts about this turn of events and Jesus’ response to those thoughts teach us some important lessons about how we should regard sinners. 
    First, sinners need compassion, not contempt. Verse 39 says: “Now when the Pharisee who invited him saw this, he said to himself ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’” The implication is clear - if Jesus really knew what kind of woman this was, then he would have rejected her efforts.

    Even in my lifetime, our society’s moral compass has changed drastically for the worse. Sins like fornication, homosexuality, dishonesty, violence, abortion, hatred, idolatry, and all kinds of disrespect for God are not only accepted but often honored. Our response, however, should not be to shun those who practice such sins. Instead of avoiding sinners, or even hating them, Jesus would have us show them kindness, hospitality, and grace.

    This does not mean that we are to condone or overlook sin. After all, conviction of one’s sins and repentance from them are key components of the gospel, and Jesus loved sinners enough to make this clear (John 5: 14, John 8: 11). Neither does this mean that we should choose worldly people to be our closest companions and confidants (1 Corinthians 15: 33). Again, Jesus provided us an example in this regard – it seems the three men he chose for his innermost circle were Peter, James, and John.

    But how can we hope to win lost souls for Jesus without being willing to have them into our homes, to help them in times of need, to let them know that we are praying for them, to encourage them to read the Bible with us, or to invite them to join us for worship? Jesus was called a “friend of sinners” for a reason (Luke 7: 34).

    Second, loving sinners requires a proper recognition of one’s own sin. Verses 40-43: “And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’ ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ And then verse 47: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

    Of course, Jesus’ point was not literally that the fewer sins one has committed, the less they will love him. His point was that those who consider their sin to be little will love little. Simon obviously saw himself as worthy to have Jesus into his home but judged this woman unfit to touch him.

    On the other hand, all of the woman’s actions indicate profound humility and faith. I doubt she contained a single ounce of Simon’s self-righteousness. Do you look at sinners today the way Simon looked at this woman or the way Jesus did? If you’re like me, that’s a sobering question.

    I have a deep appreciation for just how much sin Jesus has forgiven in my life. I am filled with awe and thankfulness for the inconceivable mercy he has shown me, and I am utterly dependent on His grace every single day. 

    We live in a world filled with lost souls who engage in all kinds of sin. They are not beneath us. They need the same forgiveness and hope that Jesus gives each of us. And Jesus is counting on us to show this to them.