Forgiveness!

It was an afternoon full of tears. Real genuine tears. Real emotion!

Reggie* entered my office and sat quietly in the chair. I could tell something deep was on his mind. The floodgates suddenly opened, and tears started streaming down his face. He revealed how sorry he was to both God and others for all the wrong he'd done! I've known Reggie for years, he's in his mid 40's and he's survived the rough and hostile streets of Uptown and the Westside for well over 2 decades. He was a known gangster, who'd been in the Joint multiple times. And there he was, blubbering uncontrollably, right in front of me.

Within hours of Reggie's emotional outburst, and unaware of what his buddy had just done, Jughead* did almost the identical thing by stumbling into my office and also breaking down in a flood of tears. They were from the same clique and shared similar stories of homelessness, incarceration and addiction.

So why all these tears? Both these men spilled forth stories of regret, mistakes and the wrong they'd done. They shared how they'd hurt their mothers, families and other people. They shared how they'd let people down, got into countless fights, stolen things, drunk too much, smoked the wrong stuff and messed with the wrong women.

Because of all this, they truly believed there was absolutely no way they'd make it to Heaven, they felt their transgressions made them unworthy of God, they felt they needed to be punished. They felt they would not or could not receive his mercy, forgiveness and grace.

When I heard these fellas and saw the genuine fear in their watery eyes, I surprised them both with the Gospel truth, by telling them; "you need not fear; because these tears and your repentance means you're actually in the place where God wants you to be! Your tears and repentance means you've been forgiven"

I went on to explain what a lot of this passage in Luke 7 candidly reveals; how the Kingdom of God confuses us, by turning all our preconceived ideas upside down; how the Kingdom of God challenges us to embrace justice, forgiveness and poverty in a new and radical way; how living the Gospel truth, following the example of Jesus, is going to cause reactions and opposition.

As we delve into this passage, I want to quickly look into 3 beautiful realities about the Kingdom of God, and how Jesus reversed the natural flow of the world, making it possible to forgive people like Reggie, Jughead and the prostitute mentioned in Luke 7:36-50.
(Luke 7 does not call this woman a prostitute, but a woman who was a sinner; but the general assumption is she was a prostitute, as her sinful actions were well known throughout the city)

Firstly; The Kingdom of God honors and blesses those who are "poor in spirit"
We are told in Luke 7:37-38: "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."

This woman humbled herself, she walked into a hostile environment and embarrassed herself in front of a group of men who loved to judge her and point out who she was and what she did! This woman wasn't delusional, she knew who she was and that she'd done a lot of things wrong in her life. But on this particular day, she also knew where she was going, she knew how everyone saw her as a sinner; nothing was going to deter her, she wanted to see Jesus. In fact; she needed to see Jesus! Like Reggie and Jughead, this woman knew she couldn't hide, she needed forgiveness and that Jesus was the only one who had and could give her hope.

This is where Jesus wants to meet us all; there was no pride in this lady's demeanor, she was a disgraced sinner. This picture was all humility! That's why Jesus didn't get up and walk away, he allowed her to show affection in such an embarrassing way. He was the one who said; "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven!" Disgraced sinners, like this woman, like Reggie and Jughead, are "poor in spirit", because they know more than most people, that they need the only One who can truly set them free!

Secondly; The Kingdom of God contradicts and angers the world
The next verse says: 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."

Jesus always did things that utterly enraged the elite. They wanted the Kingdom of God to shower blessings on them, just as society honored them! They still wanted to be in control, they wanted to make the rules and control God's Kingdom, but Jesus always contradicted that, by saying; "NO! My Kingdom isn't for the arrogant and powerful, but for the humble, weak, those mourning and sinners." By simply allowing this woman to humiliate herself, he had turned everything upside down; by doing this, he was telling these religious thugs that this prostitute was an essential and beloved citizen of his Kingdom. And this made them mad!

Let us also remember, these Pharisees were not perfect; they also sinned and did many things in the dark, but just like today, they got away with it because of their riches, power and status in society. Despite all this, they clung onto their religion which said, "banish this woman, throw her out, for she's dirty, unclean, not worthy and disgracing herself", but the actions of Jesus indicated that these are the very things that made her worthy of his kingdom, and the pompous and arrogant questioning of the Pharisees made them equally unworthy.

Finally; The Kingdom of God forgives and blesses "those who mourn"
Verses 47-50 say:
For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven." Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

In verses 40-50, Jesus contrasts the arrogance of the Pharisees, with the humility of this disgraced woman. This woman had flooded Jesus with tears, perfume and servitude, for she knew who she was before God, while the Pharisees sat there, judging her every move, judging every move Jesus made and thinking they were too powerful and too righteous to weep like this lady was doing. Look how contrasting and opposite their actions were; by weeping, she was saying, "I'm not worthy", while the Pharisees did not show Jesus any affection, and Jesus knew that they thought he was unworthy of them.

This isn't unique just to the time of Jesus; I also see this happening in my neighborhood of Uptown. Homeless men and women, precariously housed folk, people who are constantly rotating in and out of Cook County Jail, people like Reggie and Jughead, are often seen chilling on the corner or wandering into our shelter. Because of who they are, because their status in society, they are always judged and looked down upon by a few self-righteous locals. They are viewed like this woman, as a detriment to society, as disgraced sinners; 911 is called, their photos are posted on websites, they're discussed in meetings and ridiculed.

I also get looked down upon and judged; why? because I chat and fellowship with these poor and homeless folks. They may be thinking, "don't chill with these people, these unsightly cliques, they are not worthy of you", but Scripture tells us something different, something radical; that is exactly where Jesus is; chilling with the "least of these".

Jesus stated in Luke 6; "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh", followed by; "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." This woman's sins were many and visible to all, and she hated that! She wept bitterly! Reggie and Jughead can make same claims. This woman knew she was an embarrassment to herself, society and God. Her only response was to weep, pray and beg for God's forgiveness, mercy and grace.

We need to remember: as the world judges and frowns, Jesus embraces "despised sinners" with the unfathomable love and mercy only He can give.

So let not forget: This woman's sins were many, but she received forgiveness that day, and became an honored member of God's everlasting Kingdom. So when we truly weep, pray and humble themselves before God, we will also receive this unexplainable and mysterious forgiveness, found only in the loving Kingdom of the Almighty God.

*not their real names

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about?

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10 minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these". 

This was a sermon preached on 12/10/13; regarding a question about Forgiveness and the passage in Luke 7.

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