“Do you see this woman?” Luke 7:44
“Up Close and Personal” was originated by ABC sports icon Roone Arledge in the 1960’s as way of making sporting events more intimate for the viewer. One of the keys was providing the background of not only the event, but the participants.
I grew up watching “Wide World of Sports” and the Olympics when ABC broadcast them. They could run an “Up Close and Personal” segment on some obscure Eastern Bloc athlete and soon I was pulling for the Bulgarian shot putter who was raised on a dairy farm with 11 siblings and a pet Alpaca. Roone was right. If you know the person’s story you end up liking the person.
This insight explains how God can love each one of us. The backstory of the parable of the two debtors is a perfect illustration. Jesus was at the home of Simon the Pharisee when “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” entered the home and began to weep and anoint Jesus’ feet. Simon was stunned, and thought to himself that Jesus could not really be a prophet, for if He was then He would know what sort of woman she was and certainly would not allow her to touch Him.
Jesus knew what was going on and told a parable of two debtors, one owing a great deal and the other a relative pittance. Neither could repay and both were forgiven. It’s a great parable of grace, and I’ve written and spoken on it’s meaning many times. If you’re spiritually broke then it doesn’t matter how much you owe. You’ve got to rely on grace. Thus, we are all equal in both need and solution.
I want to focus this week, however, on the line Jesus spoke right after the parable, ”Simon, do you see this woman?” Of course he did. She was right there in his dining area. He had noticed her the moment she set her dirty little foot inside his home. He saw her as clearly as his graceless eyes could focus. He saw her wretchedness, and it repulsed him.
But Simon didn’t really see her. Jesus did, and He not only saw the sin, He saw the brokenness that lay behind it. He knew her story, all of it, and because of that He loved her.
Isn’t it interesting that the one Person, God, who knows us best loves us the most? Isn’t it ironic that we are so often afraid of God? That we want to hide from God?
When considering ourselves we tend to operate on the basis of “if you really knew me you wouldn’t like me.” So we hide our wounds, never talk about our scars, and generally try to keep everyone at arm’s length.
When it comes to considering other people, we tend to be like Simon. We see only the failure or irritation and fit them into a little box of condemnation. Thus, the woman was a sinner, or the ex-husband is a jerk, or the former friend is a gossip, or the driver behind me is an idiot, etc. With the verdict pronounced, the sentence can be passed, and we can simply dismiss all the irritating, immoral, wicked people, selfish people around us.
And we end up either mighty lonely or insufferably self-righteous, or both.
The story of Jesus, Simon, and the woman teaches that the line of good and evil runs right through each one of us. I can look at the picture of the criminal on the front page of today’s paper and be disgusted, rightly so, by what he did. The facts, just the facts, of the crime are clear.
What I can’t know is what that criminal’s life has been like. What abuse did he endure as a child? What unfair shame does he carry that no one has taken time to lift away? At one point in his life could a loving man or woman really made a difference in the path he took? I can also look at that picture and forget my own evil.
Every “Simon” reading this so far will likely object that I’m providing excuses. No. I’m providing a likely explanation. Evil doesn’t breed in a vacuum. It’s socially contagious and fed by the evil within each of us.
I’m not suggesting that a crime should not be punished or that evil shouldn’t be condemned. All of our actions have consequences, but the way of grace is both puzzling and amazing precisely because it looks beyond the surface.
Jesus did see the woman in a way that Simon, in his strict legalistic categories, could not. He knew her story, or at least understood that there was a whole lot more to the story than the plain fact that she was a prostitute. Perhaps she had lost her father early in life, or been abused by him. Maybe she was married at one point, then her husband died or betrayed or divorced her. Maybe she had a child and this was her means of providing food for their table.
The fact of the matter is, there’s not a single person you wouldn’t love if you knew their story, up close and personal. Trauma, big T and little t, twists lives in a lot of different ways. Grace has a way of helping straighten out the twists, healing the wounds, and bringing hope to the hopeless.
That’s what Jesus is for, and that’s what He wants us to be part of. What a different world we would have if we took time to learn each others’ stories, and got to know each other up close and personal. Knowing everyone’s story is plainly impossible, but the next time I want to react to another person with condemnation, irritation, or just plain meanness I hope I can remember there’s more to their story. If I knew the story of the people we hate… God does, and He responds with grace.
Dr. Terry Ellis
May 1, 2016