The Scandal of Grace: Jesus Loves Bad People

Martin Luther said that, since the fall, our hearts have been hard-wired with a “wages” mentality: We only get what we deserve. We’re only worth how well we perform. If we do good things, we will get good outcomes. And if we do bad things, we will get bad outcomes.

So what happens when someone does bad things and gets good outcomes? That’s insulting to us—but that’s the economy of grace.

It’s a scandal we should thank God for because if God didn’t relate to us by grace, none of us would have any hope.

In the Gospel of Luke, a prostitute hears that Jesus is having dinner at a Pharisee’s house. So she comes to kneel at Jesus’ feet, weeping and washing his feet with her tears and her hair. She even anoints his feet with perfume. The Pharisee questions (to himself) Jesus’ acceptance of this woman, and Jesus responds,

“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she, with her tears, has washed my feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with olive oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfume.

“‘Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.’ … And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

– Luke 7:44–50 CSB

The point of this story is not that this woman is a sinner and Simon, the “good guy” Pharisee, just has to learn to deal with the fact that Jesus loves sinners, too.

The point is that Simon is a sinner just like this woman; the only difference is that he doesn’t realize it. Ironically, the woman has an advantage over Simon because she realizes her sinfulness and he doesn’t. For whatever reason—his upbringing or his privileged place in society or the good education his parents got for him—Simon has learned to cloak his sinfulness better than her and behave in more socially acceptable ways. But his heart has the same sickness as hers.

The scandal of the gospel is not that Jesus loves bad people along with the good people. The scandal of the gospel is that God only loves bad people because that’s the only kind of people on earth right now.

One of the most ironic and beautiful parts of Jesus’ life is how safe sinners felt around him. This woman, for instance, lets her hair down, which symbolizes vulnerability, even a kind of soul intimacy. She’s saying to Jesus, “You see all of me and accept me as I am.”

The safest place in the universe for a sinner to be is completely exposed in the presence of Jesus. This woman symbolically exposes her brokenness of soul to Jesus, and all she finds is love and acceptance. Simon, in contrast, overlooks his brokenness. And in missing this, he misses grace as well.

Jesus’ acceptance of sinners doesn’t mean, of course, that he affirms our lifestyle choices or is content to leave us where we are. Those who experience grace are changed by grace. But grace comes first.

Jesus says that, while he was on earth, he did not come to judge. One day he will come back as Judge, but he’d been sent to earth only to extend the offer of salvation to all who would receive it.

That should be true of our time on earth, too. No matter what someone has done, until their dying breath, we extend God’s acceptance and embrace. As those who have received it in full, our only posture toward the world is grace.