John gives the account of Jesus’ impromptu conversation with a woman at a well. In those days the husband initiated divorce: this Samaritan woman had been dumped by five different men. Jesus could have begun by pointing out what a mess the woman had made of her life. Yet he did not say, “Young woman, do you realize what an immoral thing you’re doing, living with a man who is not your husband?” Rather he said, in effect, I sense you are very thirsty. Jesus went on to tell her that the water she was drinking would never satisfy and then offered her living water to quench her thirst forever.
I try to recall this spirit of Jesus when I encounter someone of whom I morally disapprove. This must be a very thirsty person, I tell myself. …
When I am tempted to recoil in horror from sinners, from “different” people, I remember what it must have been like for Jesus to live on earth. Perfect, sinless, Jesus had every right to be repulsed by the behavior of those around him. Yet he treated notorious sinners with mercy and not judgment. – Philip Yancey, in What’s So Amazing about Grace?
Readers of the Gospels marvel at Jesus’ ability to move with ease among the sinners and outcasts. Having spent time around “sinners” and also around purported “saints,” I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus.
Recall the story of Jesus’ dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee, in which a woman … poured perfume on Jesus and provocatively wiped his feet with her hair. Simon was repulsed–such a woman did not even deserve to enter his house! Here is how Jesus responded in that tense atmosphere:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for me feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Why is it, I ask myself, that the church sometimes conveys the spirit of Simon the Pharisee rather than that of the forgiven woman? Why is it that I often do? – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?