Seeing Beyond the Sin

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Great God, for your involvement in human affairs, we thank you. For the reality that we can live each day in communion with you and in prayer with you, we thank you. And so this day we ask that you speak to our lives through this story, through this experience, and may we be better people for having been with you. In the name of Christ, Amen.

Sometimes we see people through negative images. We see people only by the wrong they do, never by the good they do. Our one-sided way of looking at them causes us to miss what is righteous in them or what good they do. This is what we see in this narrative in Luke. The disciples look at this woman who came to see Jesus through her status in the community, that of being a sinner. Too often our religious and political leaders fail in their moral living. Unfortunately, we act like the disciples when we see them only through the wrong they have done. We are quick to condemn as the disciples were.

But Jesus is helping these disciples relate to people another way. We forget that Jesus wants to give life to the disenfranchised, to the hard situations that we experience even when we bring on those experiences by our wrong choices. Jesus went beyond this woman's status as a sinner or any wrong she may have been guilty of. He saw her good deeds and he saw the faith desire of this woman. He saw the woman as one who showed him love, as one who had the faith to believe that he could help her. He honored her faith.

Sometimes we also look at life's experiences through the way we believe they are adversely or wrongly affecting our lives. We hold opinions and act in ways according to those wrong ways of viewing our experiences.

Some years ago I served as a campus pastor at Oregon State University, and one of the activities we had each week was a Wednesday noon study. From time to time we would pick different topics to discuss, and sometimes we would be hooked. At one of those luncheons we were discussing the book "The Courage to Teach." We were asked by our facilitator on that day to share an experience of a teacher who influenced our lives. Vicki Collins, an English professor, shared an experience of a teacher who changed her life during high school. She says the classroom in which her teacher was teaching was located on the side of the building where a main thoroughfare of the city ran. Traffic was constant, including the sound of emergency vehicles, throughout each day. At the beginning of each class, the teacher would complain to the students about the noise from the traffic. The emergency vehicles especially annoyed him with their sirens.

After one weekend, the teacher addressed the class at the beginning as he usually did. This day he said he wanted to apologize to the class. He told them that this weekend his wife had an emergency situation. The service that the ambulance provided saved his wife's life and his baby's life. He told his students, "I want to apologize because I was listening to the noise instead of thinking about the lives."

The disciples looked at a sinner in the community; they did not see the woman who in her life was reaching out for help.

In his external world, the teacher heard noise. The experience with his wife and child caused him to inwardly see that lives were being cared for by those noisy vehicles. As a result of his experience, he gained a better perspective of his experiences with the emergency vehicles. He apologized to his students.

Friends, Jesus is helping these disciples, and us, to see that there are lives that need care. Sometimes the "noises" of selfish desires, self-centered desires, greed, or bigotry, keep us from seeing beyond the sin or the wrongly perceived experiences of life. The opportunity we have is that of seeing Jesus' way of seeing people, seeing the possibilities for righteousness in them, forgiving them when they fall short, encouraging them to go in peace.

The teacher was bogged down with what he saw as a distraction to his teaching. A life experience helped him to realize that there are lives to be valued from the assistance of siren-blasting emergency vehicles.

Life experiences can change the way we see life. The way we interpret life experiences can help us to see God's way of viewing. Jesus told his disciples the parable of two debtors who had their debts canceled by the creditor. One debtor's debt was 500 denarii, the other's, 50. Jesus asked which one would love the creditor more. Of course, the disciples replied the one who had the greater debt canceled.

Friends, can we not see that Jesus helps us to see that those who, in our eyes, may be greater sinners need our love to be given equally as those with less sin? We have to see beyond the sin to the love that we are able to give to people who enter our experiences. We must not let our perspective of negative experiences prevent us from seeing the good that is in those experiences. Then we will be able to say, as Jesus said to others, "Go in peace."

To our God be the eternal glory now and forever more. Amen.

O wise, gracious, living God. We thank you for the love that you have given in Jesus Christ--love that looks beyond our sin. O God, give us the grace to pass on the love that you have given us. Give us the wisdom to see where that love needs to be given and give us the boldness and courage to give it. In the name of Christ we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

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