Accept each other, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
You’ve heard of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Have you also heard of the Am ha aretz? The Pharisee’s need to feel loved meant they had to be better than others. But, for them to be superior, somebody had to be inferior. And so, they called the “common” people, who were not as religious as they were, the Am ha Aretz, which literally means “the earthy people.”
A pious Pharisee would not invite “common people” to dinner, would not converse with them in the street, and did their best to keep their shadow from touching them. The Pharisees were very religious, very moral – because they felt they must, somehow, earn God’s love and approval.
But their pathetic need for approval turned cruel. They viewed those who were physically sick or deformed as cursed by God for their sin. Thus, they banned them from entrance to the temple. If you were blind or lame, for example, you could not go to the temple to pray or worship or offer a sacrifice. You were classed as one rejected by God.
Is it any surprise that the Pharisees were outraged at Jesus’ behavior? He gravitated to the sick, the weak, the sinful, and showed them compassion. He touched lepers and other people considered “unclean.” He ate with tax collectors and whores. Jesus said that it was not the healthy who needed a doctor, but the sick. And, like a caring physician, he had come to help those who are weak and helpless.
Jesus came with this simple, clear message: you don’t have to earn God’s love or approval. You don’t have to think of yourself as superior to others in order to meet God’s standard. You are loved. You are accepted, and there is nothing you have to prove.
Steve May tells the story of a young woman who was nervous because she was dining with her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Would they like her? Would she be acceptable? She took one last look at herself before heading out her door. She noticed her shoe had a dirt spot so she used a paper towel to wipe the dirt off. It was the same paper towel that she used to blot her bacon grease at breakfast that morning.
When she arrived at her boyfriend’s house, his parent’s poodle immediately smelled the bacon grease, and followed her wherever she went. At the end of the evening, as she was leaving the boyfriend’s parents said, “Cleo really likes you, dear, and she is an excellent judge of character. We are delighted to welcome you into our little family.”
Our acceptance is not about us. It does not depend whether we are good or bad. It is all about the Lord. His love for us is based on who we are, but who he is. He is the God of love and mercy.
(copyright 2013 by Marty Kaarre)