Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner. (Luke:36-50)
If Jesus were combative, He might have picked up the 2×4 of correction and said, “And if you were a true shepherd of Israel, you would know who I was and that it was precisely this sort of person I came for.” But Jesus knew a thousand well placed blows would not alter this Pharisee’s thinking. What is it about a religious spirit that causes such a total blackout of self awareness? How does it strip one of empathy and equip them to judge? Have you ever been guilty of this? I have.
Jesus: Simon, I have something to say to you.
Simon: Say it, Teacher.
I went through a season where Jesus had been saying, “Rob, I have something to say to you.” But I did not have ears to hear. For the record, the way God has most commonly spoken to me is over time and through process. A season of threadbare emotions led me to believe Jesus was trying to say something! The intensity of my inner storm suggested this something might be significant.
I had heard the voice of God through scripture. I had discerned it through circumstances and, on one occasion, even heard an hour’s worth, of inaudible, yet brilliantly clear words in my spirit. However, on this occasion, I was about to hear God speak through others. First, there was the doctor who asked me, “Mr. Cummins, did you know your life is being driven by anger?” My response; “What?“ Then there was the prophetic guy who told me, “You are filled with religion, aren’t you?” My response; “What?” Finally there was the counselor who said, “You really do not know who you are, do you?” I was at the end of myself. My response; “No, apparently I am clueless.” It was at this point in the process that my heart said, “Go ahead Teacher. Please, just say it.”
It would be nice if we could hear Jesus just saying it earlier, sparing everyone the wear and tear. But that would preclude process, and Jesus, I have learned, is keen on process. In a life He is transforming into the image of His Son, the heart is both the battleground and the Promised Land. For our heart’s sake (and Christ’s), He uses process to enable us to see and take ownership of that which inhibits intimacy—God’s supreme objective. For some (like me), just hearing and presumably obeying, would shortchange the opportunity we have, in process, to know Him and His ways. I didn’t understand what the doctor, the prophet or the counselor was saying. I just held those odd words in my heart, wondering if they would ever make sense.
I have told the story elsewhere of The Great Loader Bucket Incident—one of the events the Lord arranged to show me my heart. The scene was no less a spectacle than Simon and the Sinful Woman, except that hers was admirable. Mine was absolutely deplorable. While tears of repentance streamed from this broken woman’s eyes, oaths and curses spewed from my angry and indignant heart, directed at a well-meaning and undeserving friend. As the mushroom cloud faded, my heart eventually said, “Oh Father! Now I see what You mean. I am angry and religious. Please keep speaking. You have my full attention. This is going to hurt isn’t it?”
Some will read this and think, “Poor chap. All his reading has driven him mad.” Others understand and are still asking the question: “How do I distinguish between judgment and discernment? Between a critical self-righteous spirit and an honest, Spirit-led one?” Again: What is it about a religious spirit that causes such a blackout of self-awareness? How does it strip one of empathy and equip them to judge?
In a sense I am exposing the religious spirit in each MwM post. I have to. The Lord exposed it in me. It’s my story. However, a condensed response would be that, in my sin, like Adam, I had fashioned my own fig leaf of a belief system, which protected me from prolonged exposure to God, others, and myself. From my hiding places, I had learned to live in compliance to religious standards, being driven by the fear of my insecure heart. And, most impressively, I had done it all in Jesus’ name with scriptural support! These are the types of things I learned over time and through process. These are the things I believe God has spoken to me.
I entered this season discouraged because I did not hear my Father’s voice. I exited it knowing He had been speaking all along. That was huge because, in the culture I came from, God delivered important words by important people in concise sentences with thus-sayeth-Himself unction. I exited this season of process having encountered God. I had asked the teacher to say it and He had.
The fruit of this encounter has been revolutionary. I am far less inclined to label someone as a this or a that. I am also more inclined to empathize, knowing this or that person’s plight, like mine is Garden-variety sin and religion. Jesus’ words and my experience concur—the bonds of deceit are tighter with religion than sin because an outer religious life is in compliance while the heart (where life originates) is filled with dead men’s bones. Religion is extra deceitful because it serves as an institutionally approved substitute for authentic relationship with God.
“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” (Luke 7:41-43)
There are many among us who have asked Jesus into our hearts. Upon asking, some of us knew our debt was at least 500 denarii. Others prayed the prayer, thinking theirs was about five. Since empathy is realized and tears are spilled proportional to perceived debt, my prayer for us all is:
Father, help us to understand we are all in the “500 Plus” club and that any tendency to pick up a stone, as opposed to shedding a tear, keeps our hearts aloof from You and others. In Your kindness, show us how deeply indebted we are to You and to others. Show us our qualifications as the chiefs of sinners who, by Your great mercies, have been enabled to stand with boldness and joy in Your most holy presence. May we live the balance of our days repaying to both the deserving and undeserving, and especially to You, our indebtedness of love. Amen