In Luke 13 Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. He noticed a woman in the room who was bent over and could not straighten herself up, an ailment from which she had suffered for eighteen years. Jesus immediately had compassion on this precious woman, laid hands on her and said, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” In an instant, her crippled and broken body became whole.
A great miracle, right?
But instead of rejoicing, the ruler of the synagogue became indignant, because Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath. He said to the crowd that had gathered, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” His words reeked with cold-hearted judgment. Can’t you just feel his condescension and arrogance? This leader of the synagogue cared more about the technicalities of his legalistic system than he did about a woman who had suffered for eighteen years.
This is but one confrontation of many Jesus had with the Pharisees regarding healing the sick on the Sabbath. And to me, this is the essence of what it means to be a Pharisee. The leader looked right past a woman who had spent almost two decades in pain, blinded by his need to be right.
Just like the Pharisee that day, the church has allowed our need to uphold the law to leave us indifferent to the needs of people. How often have we focused on the sin, instead of the person? How often have we been so concerned with our own sense of right and wrong that we have ignored the suffering of an individual? How often have we also been blinded by our need to be right and our need to win?
The Pharisee saw a Sabbath, Jesus saw a precious woman who needed to be released from her pain. The Pharisee saw a law that was broken, Jesus saw a woman who was broken. The Pharisee saw the letter of the law, Jesus saw its heart.
It’s a matter of focus
All too often we focus on the sin and forget the person behind it. We condemn the abominable act and ignore the person who has struggled with feelings they cannot just ignore. We are indignant against the addiction and look past the suffering of a precious soul locked in a prison he cannot escape. We judge the behavior of the poor, never stopping to examine the dehumanizing effects of poverty.
Are we so blinded by our need to condemn sin that we forget who we are condemning? We are condemning people. It’s easy to pass judgment on a group. We can dismissively write people off when they are part of the faceless “them.” But what about individual people with hearts and feelings? We have fought political battles and drawn lines in the sand. We have created a culture of “us” against “them.” We have polarized ourselves into groups and separated ourselves from the ones who need His mercy the most.
Jesus didn’t see groups, He saw people. He didn’t condemn “adulterers,” instead He showed mercy to a woman who had been caught in the act. He didn’t dismiss “Sabbath violators,” he simply healed a woman who had suffered for eighteen years. He didn’t ignore a thief on the cross, but even in death had compassion on a repentant soul.
We are called to love
I think many feel to simply love another without judgment somehow makes them guilty of approving of the person’s sin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is, they are sinning against God, not us. And He is more than able to hold them accountable for their actions. When they stand before their maker, they will have no excuse. Besides, Jesus was accused of being easy on sin as well.
We seem to feel the need to confront evil. So did Jesus. He confronted the evil of arrogant, hypocritical condemnation and judgment. He confronted the Pharisees and the evil of their adherence to law at the expense of mercy. He regularly confronted those who placed their own need to be right ahead of the needs of others to be healed.
Jesus called us, by His words and actions, to love the sinner and have compassion on the outcast. There were no qualifications. There were no conditions. Mercy trumps judgment. Grace overcomes condemnation. Jesus heals, no matter what the law says.
The Pharisee sees sinners in need of judgment. Jesus sees sinners in need of redemption.