In Luke 11:37-54, Luke records the words of Jesus while he is attending dinner at the house of a Jewish expert in the law. It is a harshly beautiful passage, where Jesus reminds these leaders and experts in law about the very heart of God and his utmost desires for his people.
It is harsh, because Jesus condemns and insults these elders for their hypocrisy, and it is beautiful, because he reveals just a little of God's unfathomable love and heart for his people.
Let me highlight some of the verses:
(v. 40-41) "Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you."
(v. 42) "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God."
(v. 46) "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down
with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not life one
finger to help them."
(v. 52) "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."
I read this passage, and I question first myself, because I wonder how many times I have cast judgment on someone else, thought myself superior to someone else, or in some way, made someone feel like they should feel guilty about something they've done, when I deal with the sins of pride, greed and selfishness just by doing so. I am like the Pharisees in this way.
When Christ asks us to take up our cross and follow him, he's asking us to die to ourselves. To take on the burden of the world's sin, to bear it and journey alongside Christ in such a way that the world can know the very love of God through our actions.
We can do a whole bunch of really good things and never actually know God. We can seem like great, wonderful, nice people in the eyes of the world, and be the worst of sinners in the eyes of Christ, if we refuse to recognize that we are all at the mercy of the cross, first carried for us, and which Christ asks us to carry for others.
We cannot demand perfection in others, because it is something that none of us can ever live up to. And if Christ, the only perfect one to ever live, died for the imperfect outcasts, the neglected, the sinful, the hypocrites, the criminals, the enslaved, the poor, the ones that were never accepted by the church but beloved by him, how much more should we be willing to carry the burdens of sinners in reciprocation of a mercy that can never be deserved nor repaid! This is, perhaps, the very definition of compassion, and it is a higher calling than any form of charity or fundraiser you could ever put together.
Here is the perhaps the greatest purpose of the church. To carry the burden's of the lost, of the sin-full, of the poor, of the wanting, of the questioning, in humility and in love for the ones that God refuses to give up on. We can never fall into the belief that somehow, Christ loves us more than anyone else on this planet. He is filled with overflowing love for each and every person on this Earth - there is an unending, abounding love that is indescribable and uncontainable within the bounds of our human lives.
God is in endless pursuit of the lost. As he describes in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, we see a God who never fails to seek us out, to pursue us, to shout our names in the hopes that we hear him and come to see His radiant face. And is he ever excited when we finally find him. What love is found in Him that day!
Can you feel it?! It makes me so excited. And moreso to make sure that each and every person is so aware of his unfailing love. Of his pursuit. Of his desire for them to know Him.
Yet we must all rid ourselves of the Pharisee within us. We are only a hindrance when we refuse to recognize the people around us for the immense worth they have in God's sight. When we treat them as anything less than the most precious possessions, then we are not loving them with God's love. We must die to this selfishness, to the worldly values and perspectives, and let God's love radiate throughout our bodies into every aspect of our lives. His Holy Spirit will abound in every word you say and every deed you do. Let God's compassion and love guide you in your week.
Christ in this church can do it.