Who Has Been Forgiven Little?

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?

The Ladder of Grace

Friedrich Nietzsche accused the Christian church as having “taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted.” He scorned a religion of pity that thwarted the law of evolution and its rule favoring power and competition. Nietzsche put his finger on the scandal of grace, a scandal that he traced back to “God on the cross.”

Nietzsche was right. In Jesus’ parables, the rich and healthy never seem to make it to the wedding feast, while the poor and the weak come running. And through the ages, Christian saints have chosen the most un-Darwinian objects for their love. Mother Teresa’s nuns lavish care on homeless wretches who have mere days if not hours left to live. …Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement admitted to the folly of her soup kitchen: “What a delightful thing it is,” she said, “to be boldly profligate, to ignore the price of coffee and go on serving the long line of destitute men who come to us, good coffee, and the finest of bread.”

The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. Christ came down from heaven, and whenever his disciples entertained dreams of prestige and power he reminded them that the greatest is the one who serves. The ladder of power reaches up, the ladder of grace reaches down. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

The Mark of a Christian

Jesus reduced the mark of a Christian to one word. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples,” he said: “if you love one another.” The most subversive act the church can take is consistently to obey that one command.

Perhaps the reason politics has proved such a snare for the church is that power rarely coexists with love. People in power draw up lists of friends and enemies, then reward their friends and punish their enemies. Christians are commanded to love even their enemies. … Our best efforts at changing society will fall short unless the church can teach the world how to love. – Philip Yancey