We followers of Christ have many things in common. We serve the same God, and we presumably desire to fulfill the same will. Many of our commonalities are what we gain after our conversion, but we also share some traits related to our old selves. Some of us will have a difficult time accepting that Christ has accepted us because of who we used to be and what we have done. Others of us cannot stop remembering the old self and get past it. We have a tendency to wonder how and why God has loved us so much to provide a way for us to reach him. We are the undesirables, the misfits, but Scripture will reveal to us that those are exactly the people the Lord came to chase and to redeem.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Children can be cruel, and I can still recall many of the cruelties I witnessed and experienced when I was a child. In social settings, such as at school, people tend to separate into factions even well beyond childhood. In childhood, particularly, those groups are very common. We are trying to figure out who we are and who others are and how we relate to one another. There was always that one kid at school who was the outcast, the one no one dared befriend or even talk to. He or she was the one that could ruin your reputation in a heartbeat if you were to share a lunch table or walk home together. Even as so-called grown-ups, we still place people in that group of misfits. Whether by socioeconomic standards, career designations, or geographic location, we still use external factors to determine who is worth our company.
Jesus was no fool. He knew very well what the social climate was in Israel during his time. It would have been no surprise for him to hear from the Samaritan woman that they should not be interacting, but his interaction with her was intentional. Social and cultural norms which serve to divide humanity were of no consideration for Christ. He would not be deterred from trying to reach a lost soul simply because that conversation might be socially taboo. The town from which this woman came did not speak to her value. Neither did her family heritage or social status. The thing about misfits is that Jesus clearly recognized they were misfits, but it did not change his pursuit of them. I do not believe that He simply saw a soul but did not see the friction He was causing in trying to reach that soul. I believe He knew exactly what He was doing and exactly how it looked, but He refused to bow to a set of social principles that, if adhered to, would have left some lost
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Early in my Christian days, I used to volunteer with a ministry which served food and really good Christian music to those in the inner city on most Friday nights. We would set up in a parking lot on a corner which was one block from the intersection known for prostitution activity. If anyone local mentioned that intersection, we knew what they were referring to. I must be honest and say that some of my time serving in that ministry made me very self-conscious. There was a clear difference between those serving at the event and those coming to receive. Some who attended had no respect or reverence for the ministry we were trying to provide, and they could be a wild bunch. They spoke with offensive language and unashamedly expressed anti-Christian views. We still were there to feed them and love them, but some of these interactions made me selective about the people with whom I chose to engage on those evenings.
Jesus is all about conversion. That is no secret to us. It was no secret back then, either. I can picture him spending time with those sinners, and I expect that it looked much like those early days of ministry for me. Each person who encountered Jesus was affected instantly by him and his spirit, but that does not mean that these people instantly cleaned up their acts and all of a sudden became holy in speech or behavior. They likely were a rough and tumble bunch, and it might have been a bit for his disciples to get used to. In his wisdom, the Lord understood that He would have to meet these sinners where they were, but change would come in time. He had no expectation that they would improve in character or behavior in that moment. The thing is, He could not reach them anywhere else. They could not first become better and then be worthy of his company. There was no cleaning them up before presenting them to Christ. He knew and accepted that He would have to get down in the dirt with them and clean them up himself first. That, I believe, is what the Pharisees simply could not understand or accept.
Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
There is a scene from a cartoon film I cannot recall in which dog owners are walking their dogs down the street. Each person has one dog, and each set of owner and dog is very different from all the others. The funny thing is that each dog resembles its owner. The dogs have similar faces to the owners, and they walk the same way. One pair in particular stays in my memory. The owner was a wealthy woman in a fur coat who walked with her eyes closed and her nose in the air. Her face was turned up so sharply that she could not have seen the sidewalk even had her eyes been open. Her dog walked exactly the same way, and that posture speaks volumes of the attitude it portrays. The idea of one walking with one’s nose in the air denotes elevation. It is as if that person is stating that she is above everyone else. Even to look down on them would be offensive to her because they are not the same kind or class of people. The one with the turned-up nose cannot grasp that she might actually be very similar to those she believes are beneath her.
We know that pride was a great flaw of the religious leaders during the days Jesus walked the earth. If there were one reason they could give to explain why they would have a right to point their fingers at any sinner and judge them, it would be that they are simply different kinds of people. These religious leaders found no common ground with those they labeled as sinners. They saw themselves as clean and holy, and they saw sinners as corrupt and filthy. It never occurred to them that they might have some commonality, whether in the present or in the past. It never occurred to them that these sinners were valuable human beings who were no less worthy of compassion than the ones considered righteous. When Jesus challenged them, even one of them, to proclaim their lack of sin by casting that first stone, He was asking them to come to terms with the fact that none were any different than that adulterous woman. They must have realized their similarity to her because not one stone was cast.
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.
I had a very close friend early in my Christian walk who was responsible for much of the influence I received in those first years of my faith. In my eyes, she was above reproach and certainly on the right path. She also was a jokester, and that would end up getting her into trouble. She would tell me about flirtatious conversations she had with a coworker of hers, and that these conversations occurred simply to make other people in the office uncomfortable. To her, this was just a fun joke at work. I was uncomfortable listening to the stories because I thought this was an open door, and I thought there was always the possibility that her coworker was not exactly joking himself. Shortly after hearing these stories for the first time, the worst would occur. She found herself not only entertaining but engaging in an extramarital affair with that coworker, who now has become her second husband. From our conversations before this incident occurring, it was clear to me that she never imagined that this could happen to her because she was spiritually secure.
In explaining to the religious leaders of his day that they actually were no different than the sinners they condemned, Jesus had to drive home the point of their destination. Doubtless, these men believed that their end would be something great and holy. They would have expected to leave this life and enter God’s eternal kingdom full of glory and honor. Jesus had to correct them and let them know that the sinners they so often condemned had a better chance of getting there than they did. Those misfits actually had purer hearts. This comes back to the importance of conversion. Those religious leaders failed to accept that they needed to change, and that reluctance to change would lead to their ultimate condemnation. They never would have expected that for themselves, just as they never would have expected those filthy sinners to have a shot at looking forward to a future with God in eternity. The problem was that they were incapable of taking a sober look at themselves. It kept them from seeing how similar they were to those they condemned, and it certainly kept them from realizing that they could be worse off than those they judged so harshly.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
The Bible is full of examples of people who completely transformed their lives through the power of God. Some people, like King David, ebbed and flowed in their faith as they were pulled in one direction or another by sin or their flesh. We likely would not think of King David as someone who made this great transformation but as someone whose faith was slowly refined over time. Perhaps we see Moses or Joseph in the same light. The disciples who learned from Jesus might be more along the lines of those who more obviously transformed from what we can gain of Scripture. They clearly lived in a time before faith in Jesus as the Messiah and then in a time after coming to faith in him. Of all the transformations I have seen in the word, the transformation of Saul of Tarsus strikes me as the most unlikely and incredible. If we were to crown the misfit of all misfits, the deplorable of all deplorables, we would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving of that award than a man whose work and purpose were to eradicate faith in Jesus from the earth.
It is way too easy for us to label some individuals as being too far gone for our spiritual intervention. When we read or hear about someone who commits a mass murder or a series of killings, when we hear of a ruler who commits genocide or other crimes against humanity, it is so easy to see the person as the problem instead of the sin influencing that person. God had every right and justification to simply remove Saul from the earth as a result of his disgusting deeds against the Church. Instead, He chased this supermisfit. He chased him, and He changed him, and He used him to help continue to change us today. That is beyond incredible to me, and it should cause us to reconsider how we think about those we encounter who are so evil and seemingly far gone. It should make us ask what exactly we can do to reach them, because the worst of the worst still have the potential to be changed into some of the best. God’s power can do that so easily.
Jesus loves the misfits. That does not mean that Jesus wants the misfits to stay where they are when He meets them. He is the Lord of change, transformation, conversion, and all things being made new. Every person He has ever chased falls into the same category, and each of those people has the same potential for greatness in him. We have filters through which we view humanity, and Jesus wants us to remove those filters. We not only have many things in common with the misfits, but we all have been misfits ourselves. Others might even view some of us as misfits now. What is missing from many of us is the ability to take that clear view of others and of ourselves so that we can love as Christ loved and continues to love. They are no different from us, because there is no “they”, and there is no “us.” Those who are lost and will be found are no different than those who were lost and have been found. Our job is to view all as redeemable the way we are redeemable because neither one of us is worth less or more than another. God has created a kingdom of misfits, and that is just fine.