The Gospel Radically Dignifies the Undignified
The dignity offered to ourselves and other in the Gospel.
One of the more striking things in the Gospel of Luke is how much time and attention Jesus gives to people whom society looked down on. A moving example of this is in Luke 7:36-50 when Jesus allows a prostitute to anoint his feet with both an expensive ointment (likely her only possession of real value) and her tears. In this tender exchange, Jesus receives the woman’s offering with love and grants her forgiveness, telling her “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
As Jesus received the woman’s heartfelt offering, however, he did so while enduring the scorn of a respected leader in the community: Simon the Pharisee (v.39). What was a beautiful and redeeming moment for her was simultaneously an undignified and shameful moment for Jesus in the eyes of Simon. As he watched this event unfold, Simon simply couldn’t help but think that the true Messiah would never allow her to touch Him.
The fact that Jesus allowed himself to be surrounded by such undignified people was clearly one of the most controversial things about him. Earlier in chapter 7, he names this fact while addressing a crowd in verses 18-35, saying, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Clearly, Jesus understood that his willingness to associate with moral and social outcasts was simply offensive to many of the people around Him. Yet, when we read Luke, we see that at nearly every turn Jesus grants dignity to those who have none.
In our day, it is not at all hard to find people who are considered moral or social outcasts. Whether we are on social media, reading or watching the news, or even just walking down the street, people who are either desperate or despised surround us. In our cancel-culture age, we do not have to look far to find lowly people.
Jesus, however, teaches us that the Gospel radically dignifies the undignified. He shows us that his heart is deeply concerned for the poor, the downtrodden, and even the morally bankrupt. Like the woman in Luke 7, Jesus invites all to come to him, no matter what their past or present circumstances may be, and to receive his love and forgiveness.
If we are to follow Jesus’ example faithfully, we must learn to give dignity to others the way that Jesus did. This is true whether we identify as a Democrat or a Republican, whether we are interacting with someone at a coffee shop or on social media, or even if we are working on Capitol Hill. If we are to call ourselves followers of Christ, we must be willing to give dignity to those who we might otherwise despise, even if it costs us. How might we do this?
The answer is that we must recognize our own need for dignity from Jesus that we don’t deserve. But also, we must learn to experience the true heart that Jesus has for each of us. Because, on one hand, it is easy for us to fall into the same trap as Simon the Pharisee, looking down on others while neglecting the sin and hypocrisy of our own hearts. But on the other hand, often it is hard for us to believe that Jesus truly and infinitely loves us amidst our own ongoing struggles with sin. The truth is that we need both realities working away at our hearts if we are to begin to grasp the dignity freely offered to us and others by the Gospel.
At the very heart of the Gospel is the fact that Jesus humbled himself in order to save undignified people. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul puts it this way:“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” To be a follower of Jesus, then, is to receive dignity from him that you don’t deserve and to grant dignity to those who don’t deserve it.
Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.