I, like many, have been wrestling with the contradiction of what the church (in broad strokes) appears to be, versus what it is intended to be. Largely, why is it that Jesus calls us to love God and neighbor, while the church seems to be dressed up to look good in politics and social clubs? Why does the church seem to get mired in things that the scriptures seem to be largely silent about or unconcerned with, while avoiding a life of kindness, truth, conviction, graciousness… love?
I have been thinking about Luke 7:36-50, which is the place to start for this sort of consideration, I believe. The story is simple: Jesus is invited by a Pharisee named Simon, to Simon’s house for a meal. A sinful woman catches wind of this and breaks in to cry tears on Jesus’ feet, wipe said feet with her hair, and then follow up with kissing His feet. Simon is put off by the display, both in its gratuitiousness and by the fact that said act is committed by a known sinner.
Jesus knows what Simon thinks and feeds him some food for thought. He poses to Simon a simple parable: Two people owe a moneylender, money (strangely enough). One of them owes more than he probably makes in a year and a half, the other owes what he generally earns in less than two months. The debts are both forgiven, and so the question at hand is simply this: Who loves the moneylender more? Simon, with his vast Pharasaical expertise, “supposes” that the one with the bigger debt did. Jesus gives him a gold star for answering correctly. And then the meaning is revealed to everyone. Jesus compares the love that has been shown Him by the sinful woman to the treatment that Simon has given Him. The woman has been wild in her affection and love for him, casting aside any propriety that would prevent her from expressing her love. Simon has failed at the basic levels of hospitality, much less love. Jesus simply draws it together in verse 47, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
And here is where I get confounded. Why is it that the Christian church, people who walk in the grace of God’s forgiveness, are so often without any profound love for either God or people?
One piece of the puzzle is laid out here in this passage. The whole thing of whoever is forgiven little, loves little. So, we are claiming on the one hand to have the forgiveness of God, and yet, we struggle with loving God or other people. Let’s break it down a bit. According to scripture, we are always assured of Jesus’ forgiveness, as long as we honestly ask for it, as He is “faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.” There is no withholding, shaming, condemning, or earning. Forgiveness is freely given to all who ask.
But what about our asking/repentance? Is it possible that we are flawed in the way that we engage that? Simply confessing my sin to God and believing that I am forgiven does not seem to be enough. It is quick, it is easy, and it is not helping me to love God or others better. Why? There is a difference between saying I am sorry and hoping that I won’t do it again, or wishing that I didn’t struggle with XYZ and owning my sin, my brokenness, my failure before God. I can be ashamed that I am lustful and angry and cowardly and wish that I wasn’t, or I can say that I am, in fact, a lustful, angry, and cowardly man. And in that admission I start to not only realize the depth of my need for God, His kindness in loving me despite these failings, but also that in experiencing the lovingkindness of God in the midst of my depravity, I learn to be kind to myself and then to others even as God is kind to me.
Will we learn to own the truth of who we are and learn to be kind, to love because of it? I hope so. I am trying.