Saturday, February 19, 2011

Franklyn, the Pharisee**

The Word for today:
Luke 7.36-8:3

mark this: Luke 7:47
"I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love."

(Stand in the Rain today offers the raw, uncut, unfiltered version of the day Franklyn lost his spiritual bearings, and turned into the Pharisee described in today's passage. **Recommended for Spiritually Mature Audiences Only.)


I scratch my head over the Bible all the time. I've read every word uttered by Jesus about a billion times, but his words continue to catch me by surprise. Half the time, I don't know where he's coming from. But that's OK, because half the time neither does anybody else whom I've ever known, heard, or read.

Another baffling aspect of the Bible isn't within the Bible itself, but in the way that it's been "heard."  It never ceases to puzzle me why certain Bible stories are so well known, while others get lost in the shuffle. We have an incident before us today, for example, which is absolutely central to the Christian life, yet it somehow remains obscure to many.

The story is about a woman, implied to have been a prostitute, who wipes Jesus' feet with her tears, then anoints them with a jar of costly aromatic oil. The thing the story is most widely known for is the mistaken belief that the woman is Mary Magdalene. (That's not her. Nowhere in scripture is it implied that Mary Magdalene was formerly a lady of the streets.)

But what's forgotten is the direct correlation that Jesus proclaims between sin and love: those forgiven the most love the most.

I see that correlation in effect all the time. The fervent and ardent lovers of Jesus Christ are those who sense the depths of their own sinfulness. Blessed by their poverty of spirit (1), they are shot through--all the way from their intellects to their hearts to the marrow of their bones--with the sense that without Jesus they don't have a prayer; that they are utterly lost without him.

Jesus is, without a doubt, a far bigger deal to those who know the depths of their depravity and how much, therefore, it must have cost for him to redeem them.

On the other hand are the cool, the diffident, the tepid--typified by the Pharisee in the story. His lukewarm love for Jesus is in direct correlation to his middling sense of personal sin.

So much that we see in the church is explained by this story. It goes a long way toward explaining the oft-noted phenomenon of a cool love that churched-from-their-youth people can have for Jesus when compared to the enthusiastic and overt love of Johnny-come-lately's to the faith.

I will even go so far as to say that I can predict eventual Bible literacy by the sense of sinfulness--and thus the sense of forgiveness--that a given individual has. Those who think they have little to forgive don't seem to be as fascinated by Jesus, as hungry to chase his heart through the scriptures.

This is not just theoretical truth to me, because I have experienced the direct correlation between forgiveness and love. It was the most harrowing moment of my Christian experience: The Day That Franklyn Felt Holy. (Because of my fear that this subject can be misunderstood, I've previously conveyed this experience to only Shelley and Pastor Joe, but here goes…)

It happened that I was sailing through a Bible class. It was one of those days when I knew I was bringin' it; I was coming across with power and even a bit o' style.

And why not. I'd had a good couple of weeks. I was "all prayed up," as Christian lingo phrases it. I had my besetting sins under control. I was on a spiritual winning streak. By God, I was feeling sanctified, I'll tell you.

And that's when terror struck. All of a sudden I was so clean I didn't need Jesus anymore.

My spiel continued, on autopilot, for the remainder of the class. But there were at least three times in those final 20 minutes when I came this close to quitting in mid-sentence. Not just quitting for the hour, or for the day, but forever.

Because at the core of me, I knew I didn't understand the cross any more. In fact, the cross looked like overkill. My sense of sin had escaped me, and what Jesus had done for me escaped along with it.

In a real and terrifying way, it was my "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" moment. The desperate need I'd had for him was gone--and along with my need went the Savior I had known.

I was pretty much a basket case--a sanctified, sanctimonious basket case for the rest of that day. I had come spiritually unglued. For the first time I understood this previously puzzling scripture concerning Esau:
He found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (2)

I thought that I would never be able to convey the cross again. If you can't convey the cross, you've got no business teaching scripture. I actually started to type a resignation letter.

Shelley told me to wait before I clicked "Send." She said I might feel differently about things in a few days. I am in the habit of taking her advice, so I did not "Send."

Two days later--thank the great and dear LORD--one of my besetting sins returned to proclaim, in no uncertain terms, that he was back. It was my old friend, Pride, and he was back with a vengeance.

I can hardly begin to tell you what this meant to me. O happy day! God had sent a messenger from Satan to buffet me (3), as Paul says. Pride, my chief nemesis, had been allowed back in. But when Pride got in, he kicked my newfound sin--Sanctimony--out.

I was a sinner again, a low-down, proud, self-centered, vainglorious sinner again. Franklyn was back!

And Jesus was back! And I was in rabid, stupefying, and ardent love with him again.


I'm going to publish this little memoir as is. I'm not going to go back and polish it, or touch it up. I'll probably spell-check, but that's all. Then I'm going to hit "Publish."

I don't want this to come out prettified, or pasteurized, or sanitized. I am the notorious sinner in the story, but for a while I became the Pharisee instead. And the Pharisee chased the Jesus right out of my life.

Now don't you go looking for trouble. Each of us has enough sin on his resume without looking for more. The thing to remember is that the fragrant oil now in the "jar" (4) is not your own. Jesus put it there when he dumped all the sin--what used to be in the jar--on himself. (5)

That's what the lady remembered, and the Pharisee forgot. So it made complete sense to her to put the fragrant oil back where it came from:

she poured it at Jesus' feet.

(1) Matthew 5:3; (2) Hebrews 12:17 (3) 2 Corinthians 12:7; (4) 2 Corinthians 4:7; (5) see 2 Corinthians 5:21

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