"God demonstrated His love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
Backstage before our annual banquet in my first job out of college, I knocked over a bottle, spilling wine on the white dress of our celebrity guest speaker, a host of one of the morning programs on network television. It was not a small stain, either; meaning even people at the back tables of this thousand-seat event would be able to see it clearly. Only a few of us knew how the stain got on the dress, but soon (I thought) the "whole world" would know.
Surprise! After assuring me "these things happen", our guest took her place at the head table, stain and all. She gave her address to the attentive crowd, and even stayed around to shake hands and sign autographs. Not once did she throw me under the bus, saying instead that there'd "been a little accident" backstage. I later learned she also asked my employer not to penalize me for the accident.
Needless to say, I've been a fan of this woman for life, and have followed her career with interest. So far as I can tell, she never once used this incident as an anecdote; never once garnered quick laughs at the expense of a clumsy new worker. In other words, to me she is a first-class human being.
Almost forty years later, that incident sticks out as an act of grace and mercy few get to experience. It serves as a human example of what Christ did for me, too. While I was yet sinning, the Scripture verse tells us, Christ died for me.
While I was yet sinning. What a powerful phrase! What an important element of salvation: The act which made my forgiveness possible; that made me "clean" in the eyes of God, was accomplished fully aware of the sins and stains I would inflict on Jesus before I came to know Him as Savior.
If only I could remember this when my self-righteous attitude creeps to the surface: If I really long to be like Christ, then I must learn to love even those who are hurting me; even (much harder) those who are hurting my friends and family. If only I would remember Jesus' instructions that there's no room for us to be judging, no right to condemn even those whom Scripture seems to judge. That's between them and God.
So Jesus may turn on the money changers; but I'm not allowed. Jesus may one day judge the world, but I can't. God may seek revenge for acts against His children, but I can't.
Because it damages me and it damages the ones I do it to, without moving them closer to God. Worse, when I ignore these commands, I miss an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of life-saving grace Jesus showed me, or even the kind of face-saving grace my celebrity hero proffered.
I've never changed a soul by judging; never changed a soul by punishing; never changed a soul by debating or getting angry. But I've seen God change many souls when I've laughed when I could have been angry; when I've loved when I could have hated; forgiven when I could have gotten even.
I want to be more like Jesus, and that means wanting the broken, the bitter, the angry, the unloved and under-loved to feel welcome in my presence; to feel free from condemnation as we meet: For while they were yet sinners, Christ died for them.
And there, in those words, is our common ground-------for the Scripture verse actually says "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus loved me long before I was worthy, and He loves me now, when I'm only worthy because He made me so. Even this, though----this wanting to be more like Jesus---has to come from Him. So here's the prayer for this day: Lord help me love others the way(s) You love me.
Raising that to the next level: Lord, help us love others the way(s) You love us.
This reflection appears as an illustration of forgiveness in "Jesus, the Image of the Invisible God (Col 1:15-29)" in Colossians & Philemon and Work.