On Pharisees and Outcasts
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
Why is it that those who had a firm grip on the religious institution in Jesus’ day seemed to have the most trouble accepting what he said about who he was, what he came to do, and how he was for everyone— even “despised sinners"—as well as foreigners and other outcasts from society?
Why is it that those people—the sinners, the outcasts— could more readily accept his word about himself and accept the truth and receive his forgiveness? Was it because they were less informed about what was “supposed” to happen if you were truly religious? Or maybe they just found that religion, as it was being presented, was lacking.
Maybe they were more open to Jesus’ words of love, acceptance, and healing because of the very fact that they were outcasts—because they had been brushed aside by so many—even by the religious group who was supposed to be leading the way in treating others the way God desired. Instead, the religious excluded them by labeling them and by setting up endless standards for holiness that were based on outward behavior more than on a true change of heart.
Maybe the religious bunch had a harder time accepting what Jesus said because they had God all figured out—and Jesus’ words challenged many notions they had about how God acted and would not act.
Maybe they also had notions about what kind of life they deserved—or what kind of reward for their piety they deserved.
Maybe the religious were closed off or less receptive because Jesus represented an ACCURATE face of God—not a version of God that kept the outwardly religious comfortable while they had no true heart after God.
Jesus was the full disclosure of God to humanity. He was not words to be scrutinized and debated. He was God in the flesh—one who lived so radically after God’s own heart—and whose life was such a strong contradiction to the life of the average religious leader that it threatened them...threatened their status...their livelihood… their self-worth, even.
Maybe they were so settled on seeing God in the manageable, safe-for-them way they saw him, that it was too unsettling to consider otherwise. Maybe pride prevented them from being open. Either way, their safe religion was a stumbling block for them. It prevented them from accepting what Jesus taught...from accepting Jesus.
The outcasts, the sick, the forgotten…they could receive him because—well, who else was giving them hope? Finally, there was someone telling them that God loved them, saw them, cared for them, had not forgotten them, had new life—abundant life—for them! They were the ones—those sinners—who much more readily laid down an old way of life to pick up the new way of living that Jesus taught.
Maybe it was because they could actually see that they could not be good enough, and so they were able to hear that, even so, they were loved and accepted and forgiven and could have a new life with God.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
I never want to have You all figured out, Lord. I want to always be aware of my need for you. I never want to be "un-stunned" by your love and grace. Overwhelm me again with the truth of your forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and the new life you create in me. Remind me again of how you first stunned me when I realized that I was one for whom you died. And may I be stunned again and again as I draw nearer to you.
Don't let us in your church be bossy, dry, unchanged, passionless, religious people, Lord. Awaken us to your beauty. Stun us again and again with your transforming grace. May what we know of you translate into love for you and others. Increase our love, Jesus. In Your name, Amen.
For an extended prayer time, consider listening to "For the One" by Jenn and Brian Johnson."