The Pharisees, they knew what to do with sinners.
They looked and counted, marked their lists. If love keeps no record of wrongs, they were about as far from love as possible. You either fit or didn’t depending on what you did, how you acted, who you honored, and what you wore.
But Jesus drove huge gaping holes in their doctrine.
The sinful woman came and anointed His feet.
The Pharisee, he said to himself, “A prophet? Ha! If he really was one, he’d know what kind of woman was touching him.” (Luke 7:39, paraphrased)
In other words, if Jesus had known what a sinful, immoral woman she was, He’d reject her like the teachers of the Law did.
Except Jesus knew. He knew very well. And not only did He allow her to wash His feet with tears, but He sat right there at the table of the hypocrite and offered him grace as well.
And it’s the grace for the Pharisee that I feel in my bones. The love that keeps no records and allows me, this once proud and knowledgeable hypocrite, to scrape my knees raw at His feet, to let the tears flow and be washed clean.
I get it. This love for sinners.
Because I’ve felt it and received it and have been cleansed by it.
But I stumble hard when I read the verses that call me to confront sin in my brother. I stumble because it’s too easy to revert back to my Pharisee ways. It’s too tempting to start making lists and marking them. The Bible says, “test the spirit” and my flesh interprets it to mean “test the person” and then I want to label them and put them in a good or a bad box.
I have a healthy fear of that place. Of the hypocrite in me.
So I keep my mouth shut tight and turn my head when my brother sins.
But it turns out keeping silent isn’t actually following Christ either.
He gives clear instructions to the church. Confront your brother, we’re told. When you see him sin then go privately to him and speak. If he listens, you have won him over for Christ! If he does not repent then return with one or two more so there are witnesses. If he still does not listen, speak before the entire church. If he continues to refuse acknowledgement of his sin, interact with him as if he were an unbeliever.
It’s sticky and messy, this confrontational business. It’s the Word of God but it’s painful. And I’m afraid of it.
I’m afraid of the days to come when others will sit down and confront the ugly sinfulness that still creeps into my life.
Like the day, so many years ago, when an older woman looked me straight in the eye and said, “Why are you wearing that shirt? It does not become a woman of God.” And I cringed in anger that she would dare, then knelt in humble brokenness because she was right.
It was not fun, not one little bit. And when I am confronted in the future about some other sin, it will still not be fun– but it will grow me and change me and chip away the bitter edges of my flesh.
And how can I not offer the same chance to my brothers and sisters? The chance to be refined a bit more? But I fear the heart of the Pharisee and I fear that I will not be the gentle voice that has so often spoken into my life. Instead I will be the rough and the hypocrite.
How Lord? How do I follow Your instructions without falling prey to my sinfulness?
How do I look at my sister and say, Friend, this does not become a woman of God, without thinking ungodly judging thoughts?
And it’s almost funny the absurd simpleness of His answer.
It’s right there in the story of the woman, washing Jesus’s feet with her tears. The story where He explains to the proud Pharisee, “The one who is forgiven much, loves much.” It’s right there.
There is a stance for confronting sin.
It is not with your feet centered and finger pointing.
It is not with lists written and records kept.
It is not with eyes condemning.
It is on knees worn and bruised from kneeling.
It is with tears dripping for your own sin and desperation for your Savior’s forgiveness.
It is with your very best broken at the feet of the only One who is worthy of all praise.
There is no throwing a brother or sister to the ground before Christ: there is only crawling forward, turning to the one who is traveling the wrong direction and offering them a hand. Whispering, “It is better down here, dear friend. It is better to surrender and worship than to cling to the worldliness out there. This is where forgiveness reigns. This is where love is born.”
And with the love that blooms at the feet of the God who accepts the dirtiest of sinners, we will face even that which we fear, to draw each other closer to the only One who can set us free.