Tuesday, February 19, 2013

{the things i can't escape}

I can't quite put into words what's been floating around my head lately.  But I'm gonna try.

When I started studying Matthew earlier this year, I knew I would be challenged by what Jesus said--both to His followers and to those who opposed Him.  I knew I would feel convicted by His frank honest assessments of the human heart.  I knew I would be tempted to skim over some of the things He said that are hard to understand.

But, I didn't know I would identify so much with the Pharisees.

Yeah.  I am a modern-day Pharisee.
I feel like I need one of those "Hello! My Name is ___________." badges.
Or like I need to stand up at a Pharisees Anonymous meeting and introduce myself as a white-washed tomb. 

I have long been about rule-following and standard-keeping more than I have been about disciple-making and grace-giving.  It goes against the grain of my law-keeping hubris to be bigger on grace than I am on correction, because I feel like I can measure law-breaking.  I can sum up a person by how well they obey or don't obey.
But I can't measure grace. It just pours out--overflowing, healing, goodness.  And it shames me in my finger-pointing, gnat-straining, camel-swallowing judgments.

But Jesus.  Jesus.
He just calls a spade a spade while simultaneously overflowing with compassion for all the lost sheep who are floundering in their distress and dispirited dejection.

When I study Matthew in the early mornings, watching the sun rise and filter through the trees in my backyard, I feel like I'm observing Jesus--like I'm right there, in Capernaum, watching Him tell a man lying on a mat with bits of roof scattered about on his lifeless legs that his sins are forgiven, and then--when that was too shocking and blasphemous for my associates--that he could pick up his mat and walk.  I envision that man jumping up with as much spring in his step as my energetic 4 yr old, grabbing up his mat, while weeping uncontrollably that this Man had healed him AND declared him forgiven for all the years of bitterness and jealousy as he watched his friends roam freely on their for-granted legs.  Because if that Man could heal him, then He was right when He said this former-paralytic's sins were forgiven.  I can see the Pharisees with their ornamental robes and Scriptures attached to their foreheads....mouths gaping open...backing away quickly, quietly. 

I see Jesus strolling up to the despised tax collector's booth where Matthew is hard at work swindling the people to line his pockets as well as the hated Roman government's coffers.  This was a guy you avoided unless it was tax time and even then, you dreaded his inflated taxation.  You bit the insides of your cheeks to keep from screaming when you paid him because you knew he was cheating you while also working for the enemy.

But Jesus.  He just walks right up to Matthew and says, "Follow Me."  Simply. Succinctly.
And Matthew.  What in the WORLD.  He just gets up and follows Him.  No looking back, apparently. I would give a whole lot to just see the look in Jesus' eyes when He squarely faces a future-disciple and says, "Follow Me."   Compelling. 

(Note: As a Pharisee, at this point I would have been outraged that Jesus went outside the religious circle to look for followers.  I mean, He was a rabbi of sorts--a teacher.  What is this smattering of tax collectors and fishermen?  Why not those training to be among the religious elite?  That makes for a much more appropriate group.  Right?  No.  Not Jesus.  Weak things to shame the wise, and all that.  Why is He is just not fitting into the box I want Him to fit into?)

And here is the point where I am totally thrown.  I read Matthew 9 this last week, and I can't stop thinking about it.  Round and round it goes in my head, I can't stop recycling this story.  You'll see why in a minute.

After Jesus asks tells Matthew to follow Him, Matthew throws a feast for Jesus (see Luke's parallel in chapter 5).  And who does he invite?  All his friends.  His comrades.  His peeps.  (Sorry.  When am I ever going to use the word 'peeps' in a blog post unless I am discussing marshmallow Easter candy?) Matthew's friends are obviously not from his Wednesday night synagogue prayer time.  They're fellow thieves tax collectors.  And "sinners", which I translate to mean  "known sinners."  People whose reputations preceded them.
And Jesus comes to eat with them.  Not stiffly, uncomfortably, and nervous about what people will think about Him eating with these folks.  No. Not Him.  He is reclining at the table with them.  Now, I know this is traditionally how they ate--reclining (which sounds like a tradition we MUST resurrect).  But, I don't get from the passage that He's nervous about being seen there. According to Matthew's account, Jesus is eating at Matthew's house and the other tax collectors and sinners come to eat with Him.

And this is what has just decimated my self-righteous approach to ministry.

Jesus went to them.  The sinners, the people of ill-repute, the tax collectors, the despised, the folks hated by the good, God-fearing man.  Jesus went to them.  He willingly ate with them and spent time with them, no matter how questionable it looked to the religious group.  He knew who He was and what He was about. This Man, this God-Man---with the absolutely pristine record, the only flawless human to walk this earth--He willingly subjected His reputation to being sullied by the religious elite so that He could reach the ones who knew they needed Him.
When the Pharisees questioned Jesus' disciples, asking, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?", Jesus just straight up said that He came for the ones who were sick and knew it.  If you thought you were well, then I guess you just didn't need Him.  He came for the ones who were sinners and knew it.  He came for the ones who would be desperate for Him.
And in true Jesus-fashion, He hits them with a zinger that just...pierces my heart.
"Go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  (9:13)

A couple of things.
One, Jesus models something here that I believe we have missed. Right before He goes back to heaven after the resurrection, Jesus tells His disciples to "Go and make disciples of every nation."  Go.  Not expect them to come to you.  Go and make disciples.  He modeled this by going directly to the sin-sick, broken down people who were totally and completely marginalized.  He sought them out!  And as a result, they listened and many believed that He was who He said He was.
This, this is what I believe the Church of the past couple of generations has missed in this country.  We have expected people to clean themselves up and come to church to hear about Christ.
Why are we not going to them, embracing them in their sin-sickness and giving Christ to them?  They don't need to clean themselves up to come to Christ.  Christ does the cleaning-up when He has given you a new heart. 
Second.  What are we so afraid of?  Many of us who have grown up in the Church, who have been careful to carry as unsullied a reputation as possible--we are so careful about offending another Christian that we refuse to even associate with people who are desperately dying in their sin without Jesus.  Just like good little Pharisees.


I want to take my cue from Jesus who looked out at the people who were distressed and dispirited and felt compassion for them in their lostness and wandering.  I want compassion to compel me to hold out the One who saves to the ones who need Him.
I was once so distressed, so desperately dead in my sin.  And Jesus looked at me in my distress and saved me.  How could the Son of God associate with the likes of me?  I know how ugly my heart is. But He did.  And not only did He save me, He made me a part of His family. 
I want this truth to drive me to speak the Gospel and show compassion in the places where it might make me look bad.  Why am I so concerned about what other people think?  That's just stupid.  And an excuse.

On Sunday, my husband preached the sermon I have been both longing for and dreading.  He is working through Luke, and of course--OF COURSE--the text for Sunday was the parallel passage of what I had studied in Matthew all week. {sermon link coming soon}

I cried more tears than I thought were possible as the Spirit weighed heavily on me.  Even now, a couple of days later, I just can't shake this feeling of conviction and near-suffocation. 

The upcoming changes within our church in how we will approach evangelism and disciple-making both terrify and thrill me. Applying this in my daily life, too....scary.  {Again, why am I so afraid?}

But I am ready.  So ready to tear off these self-righteous hindrances and to take Jesus at His Word. 


  1. Beautiful stretching of the Spirit. Loving sinners is messy and draining, but so God glorifying; following the law is calculated and seems easier. Walking gracefully with sinners constantly stretches my judgmental mind to more grace, more grace, more grace and reminds me of the grace I continually need and have received so I never forget the Redeemer.

  2. Sheesh, thanks for all the conviction, Glenna! ;) (I guess I really should blame the Holy Spirit, huh?)