“How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you ignore the important things of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won't accidentally swallow a gnat; then you swallow a camel! You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too…You are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. You try to look like upright people outwardly, but inside your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:23-28NLT selected).”
A few years ago, I could give you the name of every “Pharisee” in my church. I was great at spotting them and thank goodness I wasn’t like any of them! Just being around their rule-following, sin-scowling, holier than thou attitude drove me nuts. Then I met Jay.
Jay showed up at our home fellowship group one week, and he was every home fellowship’s greatest fear. How can we get rid of this guy, was my first—and last—thought every week. Jay was an oil rig worker, he smoked, slipped a cuss word in occasionally (even sometimes when praying!), was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and had “done time.” For just what, I didn’t know. Every week I was on edge, expecting our valuables to begin disappearing. Why else would a guy like that show up at our house for a Bible study? I kept a watchful eye on him, wondering when he was going to pull something.
Time passed. Jay doggedly showed up every week, and every week, I wished he would stop coming. But as the months went by—and no cash disappeared—we were forced to get to know Jay. The trust slowly began to build. When we found out he did light carpentry, my husband decided to give him a chance and hired him for some small jobs around our home. Jay showed up when he was supposed to, did excellent work, had a really positive attitude, and charged us less than the going rate. Hmmm.
For the weekly meetings, Jay often brought something edible to share, and sometimes he even brought me flowers. And whenever anyone in our group was moving or in need of help, Jay volunteered. In fact, every week that he was in our lives, we noticed a pattern…Jay came with an attitude to serve.
The incriminating evidence mounted, but not against Jay. While I was busy trying to sniff out a stink, I didn’t notice that I was the skunk. While I was trying to strain out gnats, I forgot to check for camels. More than anyone I’d ever been around, Jay showed me—and everyone else—a bit of what the love of Jesus must have looked like.
When I finally saw the big bad Pharisee lurking in my own heart, I was so ashamed for all the critical, judgmental, unloving thoughts I'd had about Jay based entirely on outward appearances. All of this made me think…what about all those Jays out there, trying to get involved in churches and in our lives, who probably get Christ's love more than the rest of us, but we're being the Pharisees and sending them away? Maybe from the outside they don't conform, but on the inside they really get it more than we do. And I'm pretty sure that our hidden sins are more detestable to God than the petty little sins Jay wears on his sleeve—ones that are nothing in light of his genuine love for people.
We’re all in a process of growing to be like Christ, but some people have so much more to overcome than we could ever imagine. We must be tolerant, allowing people who aren’t just like us to grow at their own pace. It’s the heart that God examines, and many people like Jay who have been redeemed from a sinful past have their hearts in all the right places while Jesus ever so gently helps them clean up the outside.
To this day, Jay is a close friend of ours and we have seen him continue to grow deeper in his faith, despite our initial un-Christlike attitudes. We have moved away from the town where the home fellowship group meets, but they are all still together, and Jay still shows up faithfully every week. As for me, I want to invite more of the Jays into my life. He taught me far more than I ever taught him, because he truly loved.
Julie Ferwerda is the author of The Perfect Fit: Piecing Together True Love, and has written for publications such as Marriage Partnership, Focus on the Family, and Discipleship Journal. Find out more: www.JulieFerwerda.com.