"So many thousands". It was a huge crowd, because people were drawn to Jesus. He loved everyone and He was kind to everyone. He was blunt with Pharisees and He spoke truth to them (which they didn't like) but He still ate with them and was much nicer to them than I would have been, because Jesus loved Pharisees, just like He loved everyone else.
Jesus was a friend to Pharisees, but he was also a friend to sinners. When He met people like me, who had done terrible things, He was a friend to them. He loved them right where they were, just like they were. Before they could imagine it, they had let Him change them from the inside out. After a while, the outside began to match the inside, where God had been working all along.
The Pharisees had already excluded them. The woman at the well was just one of the many people the Pharisees had excluded. You remember her. She had so much sexual sin that women didn't want to draw water from the well at the same time she did. She had been married so many times that no one wanted to talk to her, lest people think they were like her. She had been searching for a love that could never be found in serial husbands.
She wanted a love that only God could give, but the church people had excluded her. After they excluded her and had treated her like pond scum, they lost their right to tell her about God's love. Then, there was no one to share the grace of God with her so she carried on, living a life of sin and grief and loss. Without hope.
One day, Jesus met her at the well, while she was still living with a man to whom she wasn't married, and He offered her a new way, a new love. Go and sin no more, He told her. She jumped at the chance for change and she told everyone, including the people who had been mean to her. How about that? The sinner they hated was trying to introduce them to Jesus.
Yes, indeed. That's what grace can do. When we least expect it, God can turn the worst sinner into the bravest saint, because of His love, because of His mercy and grace.
When Jesus was talking with His disciples, surrounded by a crowd of thousands (every one of them a sinner) He told those men to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees". One of the things that upset Jesus was how the Pharisees treated people like the woman at the well. They knew the law. They knew about mercy and grace in theory, but for some crazy reason, they believed grace and mercy extended to them and stopped. In their minds, grace and mercy was not for people like the woman at the well. It was not for tax collectors, people with sexual sin, murderers, thieves...
Jesus said to beware of that kind of attitude. It's hypocrisy and He will have none of it.
It wasn't a Pharisee that wrote the first of the gospels. It was a hopeless, excluded tax collector who encountered the mercy and grace of God while he was still a tax collector. He was radically changed. The next thing he knew, he was using his stylus to write truth instead of tally money.
It wasn't a Pharisee whose act of extravagant love has been told wherever the gospel is shared. It was a woman who had been forgiven of a mountain of sin. She loved much because she understood that she had been forgiven much. She was radically changed and, for the rest of her life, she lavished her love on Jesus instead of wasting it in sin.
We need to remember what Jesus said. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Judgmental, critical spirits are contagious and they can spread through the body of Christ like wildfire. That wildfire of hate and condemnation can spread and devour and destroy, but it will never bring people to Jesus. It will never pour out the balm of forgiveness. It will never wash people in the river of life.
When I'm tempted to point a finger and condemn someone for their sin and their lifestyle, I don't have to look any further than myself to see how foolish that would be.
Nearly three decades ago, three women decided to pray for the worst person they knew, just so they could see what God would do. It didn't take long before God poured out his mercy and grace on me, and I jumped at the chance for the lavish love of Christ. Over the years, He's cleansed me and changed me. I'm not perfect, but I'm not the same.
There's a difference between leaven and love. All those years ago, three women poured out prayer for me, not judgment, not criticism, not condemnation. Could they see the sin in my life? Of course they did. They saw it, and they took what they saw to their Heavenly Father. They chose mercy and grace and it made a life-changing difference.
We have opportunities to choose leaven or to choose love every single day. We can push people away from Christ or draw them to the cross by the choices we may.
Let's choose love.
We love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:19 NASB
Our Father, forgive my pride. Change my leaven to love. Help me draw people to you by the grace and mercy I extend, just as You have extended grace and mercy to me. In the name of Jesus, Amen.