How To Deal with Imperfect People

"You're scum"

That's what religious leaders said about the people who were at a party with Jesus one evening.

See, Jesus had invited this guy named Matthew to be one of his disciples. Matthew was excited, so he threw a party and invited Jesus and all the other disciples plus everybody who Matthew knew. The issue was that the only people Matthew knew were as much of an outcast as he was.

Matthew was a tax collector. That means he was basically a traitor and a thief because he was collecting taxes for an occupying Roman government.

Imagine that North Korea conquered the US and your next door neighbor Fred takes a job with the new regime to get the new crazy high taxes. You and Fred most likely aren't going to get along any more.

On top of that, Fred's salary is 'whatever he can get people to pay beyond what the regime makes him hand over', so Fred is really motivated to get money out of you and will do any old shady thing to max out what you have to fork over.

The only people who want to hang out with Fred are all the other tax collectors and maybe a few people working jobs where they're not worried about what the general population thinks of them.

That's Matthew, and that's the group of people Jesus is hanging out with when the religious people are saying to the rest of the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?

Have religious people ever made you feel like scum? I've had that experience.

Have religious people ever made you feel like scum? I've had that experience.

As a kid I was in church one week and I got called out from the pulpit in front of maybe 600 people for wearing a t-shirt and jean shorts. I already hated going to church, so this was just one more reason to dislike the place. I kept wearing shorts and a t-shirt whenever I was forced to go by my mother.

Fast forward a number of years when I had made the choice to follow Jesus and found a church where I could be myself and love Jesus.

After a while, I felt that I had some good insights on scripture and theology. I studied it and even went to school to learn further.

It gradually got to the point where I wasn't sure whether other people really 'understood' the Christian life the way I understood it, and I was quick to criticize people who were doing it wrong. 

I wouldn't have admitted to anybody at the time (especially myself), but I was miserable, and I'm pretty sure I didn't want anybody else not being miserable. 

I had become like the minister who had tried to shame me.

I had become like the religious people who couldn't understand why Jesus would want to be around scum.

I'll never forget the day where, during prayer, I felt like God took a wrecking ball to the prison of expectations and self righteousness I had constructed around myself brick by brick. I was literally set free. It was amazing, and I vowed never to go back there.

Here are some perspectives which I work to maintain in my outlook to help me be more like Jesus, who was accepting of imperfect people, rather than being like the religious people who were on the wrong side of the coming of a new movement from God and refused to deal with the broken, flawed people who filled the world.

The Gospel is Good News, not a Rulebook

Jesus is always far more accepting than anyone around him is comfortable with. People's lives are changed after being around Jesus. Even his own disciples on more than one occasion are confused about why Jesus is interacting with outsiders, which is hilarious since they are absolutely not the kind of people a renowned rabbi would normally select as his followers. (See chapter 5 of the book Velvet Elvis for a great snapshot of this.)

In Galatians 2:18, Paul writes, "...I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down."

If we just create new Jesus rules, we're completely and utterly missing the point of why Jesus was born, lived, died and lived again.

If we just create new Jesus rules, we're completely and utterly missing the point of why Jesus was born, lived, died and lived again.

No one ever has to be an outsider again.

No one ever has to be an outsider again.

The Kingdom of God is a party everyone is invited to, and Christians are not the door bouncers. We're the promoters, getting the word out to everyone.

Acceptance isn't the same thing as approval

More than once, Jesus ends an encounter with some form of 'go and sin no more'. You know what the difference is between the way Jesus does this and what we tend to do? Jesus did it in a relational manner. It was only after he showed how much he valued people through acts of acceptance, salvation, healing, etc before he said this.

We can only hold people accountable to the level we have influence with them. Influence comes from relationship, and relationship is gained by demonstrating genuine care over the course of time.

And when Jesus said it, it doesn't come across as a threat (you know, because he just showed how much he valued the person), but rather as a caution. "Hey - I want you to have a better life. Stop doing things that hurt yourself."

We need to love well before we can disciple well.

We're terrible at being God

Jesus says there will be surprises when the Kingdom of God fully arrives. He warns us against being hypocritical judges.

C.S. Lewis tells a story in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia series wherein a soldier fighting against Aslan is welcomed into paradise because Aslan knew that the soldier's devotion was in search of truth and Aslan accepted that as worship.

Before you get mad at me, or worry about me being a universalist, remember that I'm just telling you something C.S. Lewis considered. Lewis also wrote a book called The Great Divorce where he suggested that anyone can leave hell anytime they want, but the vast majority want to stay.

I have no clue whether C.S. Lewis is right, but here's why I love what he has written: he's taken a 2 sided issue and found a new side. If a human being can do that, how much more can God do that?

I hate the idea of a hell where people are sent to suffer for eternity. But rather than deciding between 'I'm going to ignore it' or 'that's how it is, period, end of story'; I'm going to trust that when I get the full picture of how eternity functions, I'm not going to want to throw up. I'm going to get the full picture and I'm going to say, "God you are so merciful and loving. I can't believe this is what you were up to", and I'm going to want to worship.

My point here is that our gauge of who's got it together and who doesn't may not be calibrated all that well. The ones we consider imperfect may be closer to the Kingdom that we ourselves are.


It is in keeping these perspectives in mind that I try to live on a footing of humility. Often, I fail spectacularly, but there's the beauty: when I'm more willing to accept imperfection in others, it doesn't devastate my own sense of value and worth. 

When I screw up and Jesus doesn't zap me with a lightning bolt, it reminds me of his great love.

In those moments, it becomes easier to remember to love others as well.