Recently a friend of mine was telling me about a business trip he had taken. He’s a young, single guy who doesn’t drink or party but decided that it might be best to tag along with his rowdy associates for the evening to ensure they made it back to the hotel safely. Before long, he found himself pulling his work buddies out of strip clubs and keeping them from emptying their bank accounts at ATM machines on the strand.
As the evening drew to a close, they began searching for one of the team members who had gone missing. They located him in another strip club, only this time, my friend couldn’t coax anyone out. The team was adamant that they would be hanging out in this joint until the Uber arrived at 1am to pick everyone up. Before this evening, my friend had never stepped foot in a strip club; he wasn’t entirely sure how to handle this situation. One by one, as strippers approached my friend and offered him a number of services, he politely declined.
One of the younger strippers sat next to him and he struck up a conversation with her. He asked her what it was that she wanted to do with her life beyond her current profession. Surprised at his interest, she answered that she’d always had a desire to further her education in the medical field. As it turned out, she also had a one year old son at home that she was providing for; school at this point was on the back-burner. My friend reached into his pocket and pulled out $20 and gave it to her, but let her know that he didn’t want to be danced on nor did he want any sort of peep show. Fully puzzled and curious, she continued the conversation.
The two of them sat and talked about their favorite bands and watched music videos on my friend’s phone until it was her turn to dance on the main stage. Reluctantly, she stood up and asked my friend to stay put until she finished her routine. My friend assured her that he would be there but was honest that he had just given her his last $20. He knew she had a job to do and while he enjoyed the conversation, he also understood that talking to him for free wouldn’t be good for business. She smiled and said, “Are you kidding? This never happens to me. This has been the best night at work, ever! I’ll be right back!”
When her dance was over, she returned to my friend’s side and they continued their conversation until the club got crowded enough that her attention was needed elsewhere. Before parting ways, she asked my friend how he’d liked her dancing. He returned her smile with one of his own and told her that the first 30 seconds he’d watched were great, her calisthenics were quite impressive. When she gave him another confused look he continued, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the whole thing. It’s just that you’re a person and I felt bad watching you up there but I’m sure you did a great job and I really liked the song that you picked.” She gave my friend a big hug, thanked him for talking to her, and disappeared into another group of men.
My friend looked over just in time to see one buddy pulsing out another wad of cash from the ATM, while another sat face down at the bar. Checking the time, he realized Uber would be there any moment, and he led them out of the strip club.
As I listened to him describe his evening, tears ran down my face. When he finished I responded, “Do you have any idea what you did for that girl? You let her know that she has value that has nothing to do with her body. You showed her in a very real way that she’s more than a sex object in the very place that affirms this awful notion every time she walks in the door!!” He chuckled, “I knew you of all people would understand this. It’s why I couldn’t wait to call you. Anyone else would have only heard me say ‘strip club’ and then stopped listening after that.”
Admittedly, that made me a little hesitant to write about it — that you would hear ‘strip club’ and nothing else. I just can’t shake from my mind how eager this girl was to sit at my friend’s side, how she’d asked him to stay. How being treated with dignity, made her reluctant to walk over to another crowd of men where her body would be used for thrills. She spent nearly an hour talking to my friend for a measly 20 dollar bill when a 7 minute lap dance would earn twice that. I can’t help but believe that this evening will stick with her. I can’t help but hope that she believes in her value enough to find another profession, but I also know that if she doesn’t, grace itself — Christ — is not afraid to walk right into that strip club and meet her. There is no place so dark that Love would not dare tread when it’s already overcome death.
I thought about other women similar to this young woman’s situation, equally eager to sit at Jesus’ side. Now, mind you, I’m in no way suggesting that my friend is Jesus. He’s a nice guy who respects women. Make no mistake, he’s a sinner just like you and I who’s certainly wrestled with the decisions that landed him in this uncomfortable position, where temptation is handed out on a pretty platter garnished with G-strings.
As I read scripture, I notice that when “women of the city”, “prostitutes”, and “adulteresses” have an encounter with Jesus, they too are a bit puzzled. Culturally, men treated these women one of two ways: evaded them (avoiding personal defilement) or exploited them (achieving personal gratification). Jesus responds to these women in a completely different way. In Luke chapter 7, one of these women walks into a Pharisee’s home and begins to cover Jesus’ feet with tears, kisses, and ointment. Simon, the dinner host, responds to this situation in his heart:
“If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (v 39)
Simon’s thoughts, pungent with self-righteousness, were as thick as the odor of the ointment filling the room. Jesus stepped in to defend her, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (v 47) Then he turns to the woman and says, “your sins have been forgiven…your faith has saved you, go in peace.” (v48,50)
Jesus reaffirmed this woman before her accuser by essentially saying: Simon doesn’t know who or what kind of woman you are, but I do. The kind whose sins have already been forgiven, are continually being forgiven, and will always be forgiven. There is no condemnation to keep you from being with me. You are remembering my love for you — that’s why your love for me is being displayed by your tears, ointment, and unceasing kisses. This is why you’re here with me now; because you’re free.
Sinners who know themselves to be sinful and desperately needy because of it, find themselves in the presence of Jesus forgiven and loved. Jesus is the only place that the prostitute, the stripper, the adulteress, and the like, find pardon instead of condemnation. Jesus doesn’t shun sinners but embraces them with love so shocking that it sets them free.
This love makes people like that, people like us, want to hang around by his side.