“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of heaven before you.”–Matthew 21:31

Many years ago I covered the trial of a woman accused of murdering her brother.  At the preliminary hearing, the defendant appeared tired, hard, and tough–a woman capable of murder.  At her trial, she had made an amazing transformation–attractive, modestly dressed, stylish hair–wearing a prominent cross on a chain around her neck.

During the months between the murder and the trial, a pastor from a local church ministered to the woman. More than a dozen church members attended the trial each day, sitting on the side of the courtroom behind the defendant.  There was no doubt to the defendant’s guilt.  She admitted to the crime, even as evidence painted a picture of a troubled family and focused on whether the murder was in self-defense.   As the jury handed down a “guilty” verdict, the church members caught the defendant’s eye, offering her their quiet friendship despite her guilt.  

Not all members of the church supported the efforts to minister to this woman.  They questioned whether her conversion to faith was authentic, or born of desperate circumstances–or worse, just an act to impress a judge and jury.

In this scripture from Matthew, Jesus asks scribes and church elders whether the baptism of John came from heaven or from man.  John’s message to sinners was to “repent”–to have a change of heart.  Tax collectors and prostitutes experienced changed lives because of the love Jesus showed to them. God’s power can change lives.  It’s people who can’t let go of the past.

Did the murder defendant’s faith continue to grow?  I don’t know.  

What I do know is that for at least a brief window of time, she experienced Christ’s love through a little band of people who dare to believe and hope that the Gospel can change our hearts, despite our pasts. Maybe the defendant wasn’t the only one who experienced a change of heart.  Maybe the church people learned a lesson about looking at people–despite their sins– with God’s eyes, as well.

May our hearts never grow so hard that we ever lose faith in Christ’s power to turn hearts to the right.