A passage and meditation for you/me on Holy Saturday:
"One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)
When I was younger (though, sadly, not that much so), I remember once reading this passage and thinking to myself, "Great story, but what do those of us without dramatic conversion stories do? How do those of us whose sins are not that many love much when we've not been forgiven that much?" I even thought about writing a book about this "conundrum," for surely, I thought, there are plenty of "good" Christians out there who felt as I did.
Indeed, there were…and are. And that's the problem…with them and with me.
Even as a kid – even before I would say I came to faith – I remember giving serious and significant thought to the idea that, if one were to really put his mind to it, it couldn't be that hard to live perfectly. Of course, much of my consideration at the time had everything to do with mastering outward behavior – a discipline I've been trying to unlearn ever since – but even from a young age, the thought that I might do the impossible – somehow nobly and with pure motives – has always been the sin behind my sin.
Much to my chagrin (not really, but I should probably say that), I've never had a pure motive in my life. Mostly pure behavior, sure (at least as far as you know), but doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason, well, it's never happened, and unlike in baseball, "two-" or even "one-out-of-three-ain't-bad" thinking doesn't cut it with holiness.
As a (barely) recovering legalist, I want Good Friday and Easter to mean something. And they do, mostly by helping me recognize my wanting to reduce them to things that don't because I'm still wrestling to wrap my head (forget about my heart – I don't want to go there) around the data that says I need them to. The schizophrenia of it all feels a lot like what Paul must have felt writing Romans 7:13-20 (ESV):
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Truth be told, the older I get, the more I don't want to acknowledge that I needed Jesus to die for my sin. In my pride, I'd rather take a raincheck on being reminded of my need for mercy and grace because, at least from my perspective, my sin is not nearly what it could be, nor hardly what others' might be.
Actually, according to 1 John 1:5-9 (ESV), it's worse – for when I deny my sin, I accuse God of being a liar (among other things):
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
My heart doesn't want to spend time here; my reputation certainly doesn't. But for the sake of both, this is exactly why I need to declare to myself and anyone else who knows me that, to the degree I understand it, I'm grateful for the truth of the Gospel that says I was loved before I was lovable and fully forgiven before I fully understood my need to be so.
God, forgive me for the (many) times I make you a liar and your word is not in me. You have forgiven me much, Jesus. Like the sinful woman, let me live and love accordingly.