By Curtis K. Shelburne: Guest columnist
Of all of the many astounding qualities of Jesus, one of the most amazing and winsome is that, as Philip Yancey has written, Jesus was “a sinless friend of sinners.”
I keep being drawn back to this amazing fact. This is not the first time I’ve tried to write about this quality of Christ’s life. It will certainly not be the last. A thousand pages would not be enough to adequately plumb the depths of this amazing truth: Jesus not only loved sinners, meaning that he longed for the lost to be found, he enjoyed being their friend.
I don’t understand that. But I like it. I like it a lot.
I particularly like it because of what it says not only about God the Son, but what it says about God the Father. In his video study series “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancey includes a wonderful quotation from Archbishop William Temple: “In God is no unChristlikeness at all.” God is just like Jesus, and I am so glad! I so need to know that!
Yancey writes that George Buttrick, who served as chaplain at Harvard, said that students would plop down into a chair in his office and opine, “I don’t believe in God.” And he would reply, “Sit down and tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.” Come to think of it, don’t you think that’s exactly the kind of reply Jesus himself would give?
Why were the most religious men of Jesus’ day most hostile to him? And why are Christ’s only harsh words reserved for them?
Why were seekers and sinners, doubters and debtors, so unfailingly drawn to him? A more difficult but related question is, why are they so often not drawn to us?
Why did he so enjoy the company of folks the pathologically religious considered to be worthless losers?
In no particular order, here are some seed thoughts:
Jesus saw an honesty in common folks that he didn’t see in the self-professed pious.
Jesus found a reality in common folks that was lacking in the woodenly religious.
Jesus recognized in those labeled as “sinners” a love of life and laughter that had been completely excised from the lives of those who had opted for sanctimony over genuine sanctification.
Jesus knew that a “seeker” who loved life could easily learn to open his heart to love the God of life. But he also knew that camels would stroll through the eyes of needles more easily than lovers of man-made rules would be willing to drop their load of self-righteousness to wrap their arms around a Savior and feel his arms wrap them up in the warm embrace of perfect love.