A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders
Reading – When You Don’t Need Jesus (Luke 7:36-50)
Have you ever heard someone say that “religion is a crutch”? When I hear this I look at the world and answer, “Perhaps, but look whose limping?” The implication of course is that only the weak and infirm in mind and spirit need a religious crutch. This further implies that the speaker suffers no such weakness and can stand on their merit. Perhaps the most tragic figure in the Bible is the Pharisee who takes such an attitude toward Jesus because, you see, the Pharisee is a very righteous person, careful in following the requirements of their religion, and here is the cause of their tragedy – self-righteousness.
In this passage Jesus is visiting the home of a Pharisee, and a prostitute has entered unawares and begun to weep, washing Jesus feet with her tears. The reaction of the Pharisee is instructional. First he looks at the prostitute, compares his self-righteousness to her sinfulness and recoils in horror. Then he considers the fact that Jesus does not rebuke the woman, comparing Jesus’ apparent lack of discernment with his own “sound judgement”, and deciding that Jesus can’t be so great a prophet otherwise he would have seen what the Pharisee saw and acted accordingly. She is a sinner, the Pharisee stood in his “righteousness” before God and Jesus has proved to be a poor judge of character.
His attitude is typical of many who can see clearly enough why other people need cleansing from sin but can’t begin to see that they need cleansing. They are different; they are upright and respectable, honourable and decent people. They have the right religion, believe the correct orthodoxy, scrupulously follow the right rules and make of themselves paragons that surely others must envy.
But look at the woman’s behaviour and attitude. She has entered the house of a Pharisee; someone she must surely know would judge her like this. Here was Jesus eating with this Pharisee and why should she expect him to be any different? Her faith shows that firstly she had no illusions about her need of cleansing from sin and secondly that Jesus would accept her and grant forgiveness. She trusted Jesus for pardon and cleansing and sought it urgently.
Now look at Jesus. He read the hearts of both the Pharisee and the woman and saw the faith of the woman and the pride of the Pharisee and asked an important question.
“Two men owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?
[The Pharisee replied] ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled’” (Lk.7:41-42)
The woman knew the burden of her debt and it showed in her response to God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee on the other hand felt no great burden of debt to God because of his self-righteousness and his response to Jesus was tardy and neglectful. Here is the tragedy of those who cut themselves off from Jesus not because of their worldly ways but because of their religion. Not because they have committed terrible crimes in the world but because they believe that since they haven’t then they are right with God.
No matter what our religion there are things about our lives, our thoughts and emotions that we would never want anyone, especially those close to us, knowing about. Things that shame us to even think of but Jesus knows these things and loves us so much that he died to cleanse and forgive us. Denying this robs us of the very freedom that only Jesus brings. We can reject Jesus because, like John the Baptist, we can be disappointed because he isn’t what we expected. We can reject him because he doesn’t do things the way we think they should be done. We can reject him because we are too proud to admit that we need him, to self-righteous too confess our sins, seek and find forgiveness.
As Christian Witnesses it is our task to help people see this and encourage them to seek Jesus in the same way as did the prostitute and lay down the guarded, self-righteous ways of the Pharisee. When you don’t need Jesus that is when you are most lost.
“Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement. He is a rebel who must lay down his arms” CS Lewis