The Merry Monk
I’ve been thinking about prostitutes, the Church and Jesus lately – not necessarily in that order.
There’s a story in the Bible about a prostitute who simply had to get some time with Jesus. She wanted to get close to Him so desperately that she went to a dinner put on by a religious bigwig.
When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:37-48)
Think about that scene. Hooker hygiene must have been atrocious back in the year zero. So you have this stinky prostitute who crashes the party of a priest who is probably trying to impress all his churchy friends by having the people’s prophet over for a meal at his house. Imagine the stares and the whispered comments. Imagine the condescending tone of the servant sent to show her the door. Imagine this woman’s determination to put up with all these religious jerks so she can weep and pour expensive oil on some preaching carpenter’s feet and wipe them with her hair. Imagine the contrast of the hooker’s smell mixed with the fragrant aroma coming from her alabaster flask.
What was it about Jesus that attracted her? Was it because she saw Him treat the drunks, outcasts and the diseased with dignity causing her to desire the same? Was it because Jesus gave her hope by telling her she was clean in spite of all evidence to the contrary? Who knows for sure, but clearly this woman desperately wanted to be with Jesus and the priest was a hindrance to her.
I feel like a prostitute in church a lot of the time.
Unfortunately, some who claim to follow Jesus have created churches which are unattractive and uncomfortable for hookers. Women of such poor reputation were certainly comfortable around Jesus. Show me a church that can’t keep prostitutes away and I bet Jesus is there. I’d rather be in a room full of forgiven sinners who love God than in the house of an uptight priest any day.
Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message, once spoke about how the experience he had working in his father’s butcher shop impacted his idea of church. Peterson said:
“The brothel was just about two streets down from our shop. And there was always talk on the street about the prostitutes. But when they came into our store, people knew their first name, they treated them with dignity. They were in a safe place. Later, that translated for me into a congregation. When you come into a sanctuary, it’s a safe place.”
I used to have a safe place. I experienced it in a small church for eight simple, glorious years. That church is gone now and I’m mourning the loss. While I don’t feel comfortable around a lot of other Christians, I felt at home there. You know what made the difference? We were all prostitutes and we knew it, but more than that, we were Jesus’ prostitutes.
St. Augustine reportedly said, “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.” Yes, Jesus loves prostitutes so much He married one, but bad things happen when the Church forgets she’s Jesus’ prostitute bride.
First, bad religion has a deceptive way of lulling us into a false sense of security. We believe all the right stuff and do our best to avoid our big sins so we figure we’re not as bad as all those sinners on the streets. It’s dangerous to live up to our own selective standards while forgetting God’s law of love. It’s been said, “Self-righteousness is like bad breath. Everyone knows you have it except you.” Prostitutes don’t have this problem. They know they’re nasty!
Jesus said, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many…” (verse 47). If the Church would remember that she’s a prostitute, she’d get over herself, her righteousness and start obsessing on Jesus’ righteousness, instead. When the Church forgets that she’s still the unfaithful bride of Jesus, she’s not only lulled into a false sense of security, she also loses her ability to love.
Jesus continued, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” Understanding that we’re bad and He’s good only deals with the first half of the problem. Believing that we’re made clean by union with Jesus, despite all evidence to the contrary, gets to the second half of the issue. We need to see that Jesus’ righteousness is 100% free and ours for the taking. The prostitute and her Husband are now one flesh.
But, Jesus didn’t stop there, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little, loves little.” When we forget that we are forgiven much, our love grows cold. That’s why Steve Brown says, “The worst thing you have going for you is your goodness… when you know it. And the best thing you have going for you is your sin… when you know it.” Knowing our sin, acknowledging it as such and turning to God in faith for His free righteousness, replaces stone hearts with those softened by gratitude. We love Him because He first loved us! Get that backwards and we have a loveless religion. A lack of love leads to a multitude of sins, including creating whitewashed tombs and calling them churches – pretty on the outside, but inside they are full of death.
That’s not a church even prostitutes like us want to attend!