Have you ever noticed how Jesus was not afraid to be associated with women of questionable moral character? Mary Magdalene was someone out of whom he had cast 7 demons (Mark 16:9). We don’t know exactly what that meant, but certainly Mary Magdalene was not someone who had graced the lists of high society in her day. Then there was the woman in Luke 7:36-50. Simon the Pharisee was appalled with Jesus’ obvious acceptance of her gestures of affection. Additionally, how can we forget the protection and mercy Jesus offered the woman caught in adultery? When everyone else condemned her, Jesus judged everyone else and saved the adulterous women.
We have been considering Jesus’ behavior toward the woman at the well in John 4. Her life was a moral failure. Having gone through five marriages already, she no longer sought what respectability a marriage covenant would have offered her current relationship. It would appear she had given up trying to even appear respectable in her society.
What drew Jesus to these women? What should we be looking for here that could find application for our day? One thing that strikes me is the ‘shock-value’ of Jesus’ behavior. He was a religious man who desired to teach 12 men to carry on his work after his own public ministry concluded. Jesus’ attitude toward men and women who were obvious sinners was quite unlike what the Apostles were taught to expect in a religious figure. Certainly, other religious leaders of the day publically shunned such people, although the obvious absence of the male in the case of the adulterous woman might imply their private lives were a different matter!
Nevertheless, Jesus publically treated these women with gentleness and mercy. Why? I believe a key reason would be how he replied to Simon, the Pharisee, concerning the affection the fallen woman bestowed upon Jesus. She knew her sins were many, but, because she was forgiven and treated with respect, she loved much. Simon was not conscious of his many sins. Perhaps he knew of a few for which needed forgiveness, but he considered himself a righteous man. Therefore, he loved little, as expressed in his obvious slight toward Jesus in the customary welcome he should have offered his Guest, as a householder in ancient Judea.
If Simon would be able to see his own sinful condition for what it actually was, he needed to have discovered it in Jesus’ willingness to forgive even greater sins than he assumed himself to have committed. In other words, Jesus used the ‘shock-value’ of showing mercy to fallen women to get others to take a good look at themselves.
Because of how Jesus treated the woman at the well, a whole town repented and came to Jesus. Barriers suddenly began to drop. The woman began to be treated with respect. At least in Jesus and his disciples Samaritans had table-fellowship with Jews!
Today, much of the ‘shock-value’ of men and women living together without the respectability a marriage contract would offer is non-existent. Even divorce and remarriage no longer has the ‘shock-value’ it used to have in keeping people trying to work things out.
What would cause us to begin to take a good look at ourselves and consider Jesus as our Way of life? I wonder if it wouldn’t be Christians, sincerely and without judgment, reaching out to those fallen people that we tend to push to the periphery of our society—people like those with AIDS, drug addicts, those involved in prostitution etc. Is there any ‘shock-value’ there that our reaching out to such people in gentleness and mercy and without judgment could turn the world’s eyes toward Jesus?