Each lady in the diverse trio leaned in toward the center of a round table in a small coffee shop. Three levels of faith. Three different churches. Same Jesus. Even the casual observer could sense they had lost all awareness of time and place; so much so, that the lack of laughter and frivolity usually accompanying a group of women made them conspicuous.
“Hypocrites. That’s what she called all the people in the church family she grew up in,” Sally declared, describing her last Bible study with a group of female inmates. As her finger mindlessly traced the rim of her now-cold coffee cup her heart sprung a leak. “I tried not to take her attacks on the church personally, but when one church gets criticized how can other believers not feel the heat? It made me sad to hear how badly she had been criticized, talked about, and even ignored by people who were supposed to love her. They had not only pointed fingers at her, but also refused to offer any help. Yes, she did some things that didn’t honor God, but haven’t we all? Isn’t the church supposed to encourage each other by being Jesus-in-the-flesh examples of love and grace?”
Betty hastily chimed in, “I think the people who say they don’t want any part of church because of all the hypocrites are just looking for an excuse. They don’t want to do all the things it takes to be part of God’s family. They don’t want to come to service every week, serve on committees, and give their money, so they just call us a bunch of hypocrites and stay home.”
“Is that the way you see being a part of God’s family? Just going, serving, and giving?” Sally asked, sitting up a little straighter now.
“Well, you know what I mean?” Betty responded.
Sally pressed, “What about being so thankful for God’s love, Jesus’ grace, and the presence of the Spirit that it can’t help but spill all over everyone you meet?”
Betty tried to explain her statement a little better. “What I was trying to say was that it takes obedience to be a Christian, and some people just want to do things their own way. They don’t want to follow the rules. God has given us very specific instructions that He expects us to follow. We have to obey to be right with God.”
While Betty and Sally had been talking, Sue sat silently praying that the Spirit would let her know if she was to merely listen in or join the conversation. If she was to speak, she asked that He would give her the right words to say.
Sally questioned Betty further, “So, you think everyone needs to first obey to get right with God, and the better we obey the more God will love us?”
“Well, I don’t know that He will love us more, but we can’t please Him unless we’re obedient.”
An uncomfortable pause lingered in the space between the ladies. Sue prayed even harder for the right thing to say. Then, not at all out of the blue, she was reminded of a Jesus story in Luke 7, and she began to speak …
“Remember the story of Jesus eating at the house of a Pharisee named Simon? While they were eating, a woman who was most likely a prostitute crashed the party falling at Jesus’ feet. She cried so hard that she wet His feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and then poured expensive perfume on them. The Pharisee thought to himself, ‘If this Jesus really is who He says He is, then He’d know what kind of woman she was. He’d know she was a sinner.’ Jesus, knowing what Simon was thinking, told a story about a banker who forgave 2 men their debts – one large and one small. Then He asked Simon, ‘Which one of the men whose debts had been forgiven loved the banker the most?’ The Pharisee answered, ‘The one who had the biggest debt.’”
Sue watched the eyes of her two friends as she reasoned, “I believe the weeping woman knew she had a big debt. She had somehow become aware of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, and she believed it. Maybe she had watched Him perform a miracle, or maybe she listened to Him teach. However it happened, she believed He had the power to forgive her, so she humbled herself by falling at His feet.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, saw himself as upright because he did all the right things. He studied the Scriptures, gave to the poor, and obeyed the rules. The only problem was, he couldn’t perfectly obey them all no matter how hard he tried. The Pharisee failed to see that he was a sinner standing in great need of mercy and grace. He needed Jesus, but he didn’t know it.
Jesus said to him, ‘The woman’s sins have been forgiven, so she is very grateful. But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.’ It was grace that brought the woman to Jesus’ feet. Grace initiated a godly response. Grace taught her to say ‘no’ to ungodly and worldly passions. That same grace teaches us all how to love.
So Ladies, maybe it’s the church’s acceptance of grace that keeps us from condemning people who don’t sin the same way we do. By recognizing our own sinful pride we understand our need for grace, and that’s what compels us to share it with others. What kind of person do you think attracts others to Jesus best; those who can’t help but tell all He’s has done for them, or those who think they have to get everything just right to be right with God.”
Betty and Sally sat quietly allowing time for Sue’s words to sink in. Then Betty said she needed to pray a prayer she hadn’t had the courage to pray in a long time. She asked her friends pray with her:
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)