Sometimes I wonder as I read of Jesus' interaction with his contemporaries if I would be one of those in the "religious" crowd whom He sternly rebuked, or if I would be one of the the outsiders whom He pursued.
When Jesus said to the rich man, "Sell all you have and give it to the poor...", the rich man walked away deeply discouraged. I can't blame him, 'cuz I don't know if I could have done it either. I'm too proud to let go of my hard-earned stuff.
When Jesus told the crowds in his mountain sermon, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...", I doubt I would have responded favorably. Instead, I find myself expecting God to put His thumb down on my enemies. I don't pray for them like I should.
When asked how many times one should forgive our enemies, I find Jesus' words, "Seventy times seven" -- or "As much as it takes" -- highly unpalatable. Instead, I side with the father who took justice into his own hands and killed his daughter's rapist.
Jesus frequently castigated the religious folk of his day: the pastors, the regular church attenders, and the "pat-me-on-the-back" givers -- people just like me. Jesus criticized those of us who think we have it all together, those of us who frequently seek him only when we're in trouble, those of us who consider him a genie in a bottle. He pointed accusing fingers at the proud, the arrogant, and the learned. Again, people very much like me.
Yet, Jesus befriended the lowly, and extended grace to the humble, the outsider, and the down-trodden. He showed mercy to the woman accused of adultery; he broke bread with thieves, and spent time with "common sinners".
As I read the scriptures, I find myself pointing fingers at those same religious leaders of the day, thinking, "Shame on you!" Yet, I mentally snub my nose at the poor, the undesirables, the outcast. I may not do it in my behaviors, but I certainly do it in thought.
There are certain beliefs we Christians hold near and dear, but following Jesus is more than mere assent to a set of beliefs. Jesus' brother James wrote, "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is not really faith at all."
At this point, I want to ask God to have mercy on me. But I think I better get down to business showing mercy to the undeserving, joining the lonely, comforting the hurting, befriending the unpopular, mending the broken before I ever dare to ask it of Him.