God is demanding. God is mean. God has a big stick. God is distant. God will get you. God is too busy for you. Ever heard that? Ever thought that?
We can be told Jesus loves us and as children we openly receive that truth. But somewhere along our road we get this impression that God or God the Father is aloof and exacting. Fortunately over recent years the Lord has been bringing me more into who He really is and the fullness of His goodness.
Because of this ongoing new understanding He is enlarging my heart for Simon the Pharisee as I’ve pondered and posted on the Luke 7:36-50 passage. In the past I would have been critical of Simon, his in hospitality, his judging the immoral woman, his lack of love and care. But you know what? I was just as guilty as Simon! Truthfully, many years ago, I would have even had judgmental thoughts about the immoral woman too. Truly ‘he who is forgiven little, loves little’ (Lk 7:47). That would have been me. I once had a very small heart too, just like Simon. Would you believe God still shows me places where my heart is small? Usually not fun to see but I’m thankful He wants me more whole and free.
Did Simon begin ‘growing up’ thinking I am going to be a religious righteous man – work hard all my life to please God, follow all the rules, make sure I go to Synagogue every Sabbath, have perfect attendance at all the meetings, have a great appearance on the outside (with my long robes), receive lots of respectful greetings from people, etc. etc? So, let’s consider – Simon the baby/toddler – was he thinking those kinds of things when he was little? Fat chance. What happened to this ‘innocent’ impressionable little guy to make him one uptight Pharisee and religious know-it-all? Traditions got dumped on him and instilled in him. Have you even thought about the power of traditions? It’s incredible – enough to suck the life of God out of us even though we think we are doing what He wants! Religious traditions keep us from fullness. Sobering stuff.
Okay, back to Simon the adult and how God really felt about him. How do you read Jesus’ words to Simon – what was his tone of voice – impatient, firm, curt? What if Jesus’ words were with a kind and caring tone? What if we could grasp that Jesus saw ALL this man’s life and could see what handed down religious traditions had done to him? What if Jesus was truly trying to help Simon see the smallness of his heart due to his traditions?
Thinking about the ‘tone’ recalls the time God spoke to me about being a Pharisee. It was October 20, 1986 – reading the Bible before getting out of bed that morning, I happened to open to 1Corintians and began reading chapter 3. I got to verse 7 – “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” Then I heard this inner voice say to me in the most peaceful, gentle, and kind tone – “You think more of yourself than you should.” To hear Him ‘out of the blue’ like that, and His voice so soft, surprised me. I responded, almost audibly, with quiet incredulity, “I do?” Then, wouldn’t you know, days later at a prayer gathering someone was praying about Pharisees. I found myself asking myself rather sheepishly, “Am I a Pharisee?” I began to look up all the scriptures on Pharisees. Wow, did He ever show me!
If God, back in October 1986, out of His love for me, was saying so kindly something that could have been easily resisted or justified (Pharisees are good at that!) then why wouldn’t He have a similar care for Simon? God isn’t mean, He really does care about us and for us. So why wouldn’t Jesus’ tone of voice in His dialogue with Simon be kind? I know, I know, there are the “Woe to you Pharisees…” passages. But the ‘woes’ were about what they did not who they were in His image. God abhorred what religiosity had done to them and how it made them treat others.
This painting, Supper In the House of Simon, by Italian artist Moretto da Brescia (1150-1554) expresses kindness, not harshness, coming from Jesus as He interacts with Simon. Notice Simon’s body language – he is not defensive but seems open to possibly receive the fullness Jesus wanted him to have, even though he was ‘in the dark’ (clothes and all). Maybe the artist really did capture the heart of the Lord for this Pharisee.
- Perhaps when dealing with someone who is ‘difficult’ we could add to our thoughts the ‘baby/toddler’ aspect of them. It just might enable us to gain more understanding of who they really are.
- It will take revelation by the Spirit of God and our really wanting to ‘see’ how much handed down religious traditions have skewed our understanding of who God really is and what we think He expects or wants from us.
- When reading scripture let’s try to hear a tone that is kind and ‘for us’. As the Psalmist said, “This I know, that God is for me.” (Psalm 56:9b) Indeed He is! More than we know.