This week during the Red Letter Challenge we are focusing on Forgiving. For many of us this will be the hardest of the five targets that Jesus has given us to aim at as we take his words and put them into practice. I think that the drive within each one of us to “be right,” that is, to be in good standing in our own minds with the world around us and with God is incredibly strong. At least, this is the case with me, and I suspect it is the same for some of you.
This desire to “be right” is a longing for what the Bible calls “righteousness” and each of us has deeply ingrained patterns that we follow to make a case for ourselves being righteous. Another word for this process of making a case for ourselves of being right is “to justify.” While driving a car, if we collide into another vehicle in an intersection, the reasons we give for saying that we are in the right and the other driver is in the wrong, is our attempt to justify ourselves. Whether we actually are in the right or not, the drive to justify ourselves is incredibly strong. We all want to be right. It is a core piece of who we are.
Putting Jesus’ words into practice about forgiving is incredibly difficult because it means casting aside our old identity and ways of justifying ourselves to see ourselves and act in a new way.
One of the many times when Jesus helped someone transition from being self-justified to being justified by Jesus is recorded for us in John 4. There we find Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at a well.
This woman has had a series of failed relationships with men and she is living with a man who is not her husband, something which would have been considered very disgraceful in her culture. Her people were considered heretics, racially impure and unclean by the Jews. The shame imposed on her from the outside connected with the shame she felt on the inside and she coped by hiding in her home when most people came out to the village well for water. She came to draw water in the heat of the day when no one was around. She longed to “be right” but there was no way for that to happen for her.
Until she met Jesus.
Jesus treated her differently than any other man she had ever met. He didn’t condemn her and he didn’t use her. He didn’t belittle her when she didn’t fully understand what he was saying. His eyes and his actions indicated unconditional acceptance. His words showed that he cared about her and what she thought as they talked about worship.
Finally, The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25-26)
Messiah Jesus came to this Samaritan woman and it changed everything for her.
She not only forgot her water jar, she also forgot her shame-filled past. Running back to her town, she told everyone,
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. (John 4:29-30)
This former outcast became an evangelist to her own people. John tells us, Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:39)
Isn’t that the strangest testimony you ever heard? She didn’t say, “God miraculously healed me.” She didn’t say, “Jesus removed the scales from my eyes.” She said that her hidden life of shame was brought out into the open by the Messiah, who knew the worst things she had ever done and loved and accepted her anyway. Her deeds and identity, which were a barrier for those around her and a burden of shame in her own heart, were dissolved into nothingness by Jesus who loved and accepted her as a beloved, forgiven child of God. That was who she now was and the shame she used to carry no longer had any hold on her.
She had been made right by Jesus, and his forgiveness had set her free.
Dear friend, you and I are that Samaritan woman. We all have shameful things in our past, we all carry guilt for regretful things that we said, thought or done. But those things no longer define you. Jesus Messiah has come to you and he loves and accepts you just as you are. He has taken away all of your guilt and shame and paid the full cost for all your sins to be forever forgiven. You are a beloved child of God and Jesus has set you free. Now you can set other people free. Amen.