“. . . But rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:6
Jesus’ message to Saul—who would later become The Apostle Paul—is one of four examples of how Jesus dealt with people we would call “sinners.” The other three would be The Woman at the Well, The Adulterous Woman and The Thief on the Cross. It’s an interesting question to ask, “How then, did Jesus deal with sinners?”
Of course, we’re leaving out the religious leaders whose “righteousness” Jesus often called out as hypocritical and egregious. While these were sinners in Jesus’ eyes, few among the people of the day could see this.
But what of these four, rightfully accused of sinful behavior? How did Jesus deal with these “sinners?” Did he give them a proper rebuke? Demand confessions? Let’s see . . .
We all know the story of the Woman at the Well. She had gone through five husbands, though we don’t know the reasons for this. We do know she was living with a man, widely viewed as sin. So, how did Jesus respond?
First, Jesus complimented her for her honesty in saying she had no husband. Then, without spending a word on whether living with a man was right or wrong, he went on to share with her that he was the messiah for whom she and so many waited. For the record, she—this woman in sin—was the first to hear this news.
Next, Jesus did something else which is so memorable. Remember that as Jesus healed so many, he would ask them not to speak of him? He gave no such instruction to this woman, and we see she was more than excited to share this amazing news with the people of Sychar. In short, he freed her to tell her story.
With this woman, Jesus saw who she was and yet gave her an amazing opportunity to learn of his identity and spread the good news.
What about The Adulterous Woman? We know this story, too. When others wished to stone her, Jesus halted the mob by asking that only those without sin could participate in the execution. All left, and Jesus closed the incident by saying, “Neither do I condemn you. No go, and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t whitewash her situation, but we do not see Jesus asking for sackcloth, ashes or gnashing of teeth. Instead, he offers a new opportunity to go forward.
The Thief on the Cross? Jesus’ response to this man’s plea for grace was, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Another opportunity.
Then there is Saul, a man who persecuted Jesus’ brothers and sisters, even to death. Later, this same man would call himself “the chief” of sinners for his actions before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.
If ever there was someone who needed a good tongue-lashing for his misdeeds, it was Saul.
But when Saul asked, “Who art thou, Lord?” Jesus answered without disdain, saying, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Then, Jesus shifted the narrative entirely. He gave Saul the incredible opportunity to join His family: “But rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.”
Four sinners. And in each encounter, Jesus offered immediate restoration, hope and a path forward.
In our work, we may have similar encounters, times where we connect with those broken by decisions they’ve made. As we do, let’s always remember Jesus’ responses. As we bring restorative words, hopeful encouragement, and an invitation to join the family, we change hearts.
And whenever we see a heart is changed, we’re fulfilling the incredible mission God has for us.
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