Did Jesus love the adulteress and the prostitute? Absolutely. There are two remarkable stories showing how Jesus cared for all types of people. The religious folks called the Pharisees in the time of Jesus were offended, because in their view God loved only the righteous who kept the law. They therefore distanced themselves from so-called 'unclean' sinners in their delusions of self-righteousness.
But Jesus was often eating and drinking with corrupt tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. He met people where they were and healed them. In addition, Jesus proclaimed that both law-keepers and law-breakers are sinners in need of forgiveness. How could this be?
The Adulteress and Jesus
One day, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees wanted to set a trap for Jesus so they could humiliate him in public. They executed this plan by bringing in a woman whom they claim was "caught in the act of adultery" and asking Jesus whether she should be stoned in accordance with the Law of Moses.
This is a familiar combination of sex, a woman, public disgrace and a double standard. The woman was used as a pawn in a power play to discredit Jesus.
Instead of giving them a simple yes or no answer, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. Why was he looking down on the ground? What was he writing? Then Jesus stood up and said "Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone! " (John 8 verses 6-7)
In saying this, Jesus did not mean: "Adultery is okay because you folks also commit various other sins" Instead, He astutely challenged each individual to take responsibility for participation in the act of condemning someone else, thus exposing their hypocrisy. Would any religious folks dare claim to be sinless?
In the Middle Eastern culture, people naturally turn to the oldest person in such circumstances. Did the elder have the courage to respond to Jesus' challenge? They slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, while Jesus bent down and wrote in the dust a second time (John 8 verses 8-9). We do not know what Jesus wrote. But by looking at the ground, Jesus probably did not watch the public humiliation of his accusers. His focus was not humiliating the hypocrites, but saving the woman. What an amazing grace!
After all the accusers disappeared, Jesus finally stood up and said to the woman: "Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?" She responded: "No Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more" (John 8 verses 10-11).
In his final words, Jesus neither condemned the woman nor approved her self-destructive lifestyle. He forgave her sin, removed its penalty and gently told her to turn back from the former way of life. Jesus presented a call for reformation to both the accusers and the woman without a hint of public humiliation.
This story teaches us not to be too quick in condemning others struggling with sin different to our own. We all need to turn back from our own habitual sin in order to truly follow Jesus.
The Prostitute and Jesus
One of the Pharisees named Simon invited Jesus to have dinner with him. A sinful woman, most likely a corrupt prostitute, heard Jesus was eating there and came with an alabaster jar full of perfume. She stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping and began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them (Luke 7 verse 38).
Her gesture was financially and socially costly. She not only poured expensive perfume on Jesus' feet, but also wiped them with her hair in public! By unloosing her hair in a society where women wear a head covering as a sign of piety, she was making an ultimate pledge of loyalty to Jesus. With tears in her eyes and other guests watching, she certainly did not commit a sexually provocative act. But Simon the host was offended by her coming and treatment of the prophet in this unorthodox manner. He wanted to avoid people like her.
Jesus then told Simon an astonishing story. "A man loaned money to two people – 500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, cancelling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one with the bigger debt forgiven." "You have judged correctly," Jesus responded (Luke 7 verses 41-44).
What is the moral of this story? The more forgiveness one receives from Jesus the most costly love one can offer back to him. By contrast, Simon, who has been forgiven little, loved little. People judge others based on outward appearance or reputation, but Jesus looks at the heart and offers boundless grace to all who turn to him in faith.
In his final words, Jesus forgave the woman's sin, reminding her that her faith in him was the saving force that would lead to the path of peace. The woman did not utter a single word, but her actions spoke louder than any words. Joy comes into the life that is committed to purity.
Every time we turn to God in repentant helplessness, we worship Him. A heart that is truly open to Christ will also be open to those he loves.
Jesus addressed the Pharisees with a sharp remark: "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you" (Matthew 21 verse 31). How does this apply to modern-day Christians? Self-righteousness and repentant helplessness are two completely opposing qualities.
However, Jesus never approved of corruption or sexual immorality. Sexual sins destroy marriages, families and lives. They often involve jealousy, depression, disease and deception. Jesus always had compassion on those who realise their need for him but never told them it was okay to continue living the same way. Those who truly follow Jesus turned back from their former way of life. How uplifting it is to know that "If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5 verse 17).
Conviction of sin is one of the rarest things that ever strikes human beings. Conviction of sin, the marvel of forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven who is truly counted as righteous. They prove this by being the opposite to their former way of life.
May the Lord greatly increase our love for each other and for all people, just as Jesus does for us everyday.
Daniel Jang is a senior advisor with Ministry of Health New Zealand. He is an experienced writer, speaker and mentor to Press Service International (PSI) community. Daniel holds an MA in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and GradDip in Theology from Laidlaw College.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html