3 Pentecost/Lectionary 11
June 13, 2010
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
If you were going to create a drama about forgiveness and gratitude, this story of the weeping woman from Luke’s Gospel would be a good one. Can’t you just see it? Jesus is a dinner guest at the home of a fancy church official. I expect that most of the guests are equally fancy. You can just picture the carefully dressed church folk checking out this new guy. He doesn’t come up through the Pharisee Training Academy, and his teaching has been pretty presumptuous for someone who comes out of the country instead of out of seminary. He dares to imply that he is on some special mission from Yahweh and that the people should be listening to him rather than the trained religious authorities. So they are all settling in, getting ready to put this guy on the spot.
And then SHE comes in. In a culture in which women do not sit at table with men, this woman appears. Everyone seems to know that she would never be invited into a decent household. As she approaches Jesus from behind she starts to weep. She only comes close enough to touch his feet, and as her tears fall on them, she wipes them with her hair. Such intimacy! This is a culture much like the modern Islamic culture in which women were covered almost completely, and men and women never touched in public. Even in our culture, any one of you in this room would be shocked to have some unknown woman touch your feet with her hair. I can just see the faces of the men around the table, as they draw back in astonishment.
If Jesus is the prophet he claims to be, he must know that this woman has a bad reputation. They are muttering among themselves. They surround themselves only by good, pure, ‘religious’ people. They see themselves as superior to ‘normal’ people. They work so hard to be righteous that they think that have earned some special place in God’s scheme of things. And so they are arrogant and quick to judge others’ lack of purity.
Jesus tells a story, which puts his Pharisee host in an impossible position. Simon’s arrogance has caused him to fail to see his own failures. Forgiveness is not much of a gift if you don’t think you need it.
This is a story which should give us church people chills. It ought to grab us by the ears and shake our image of ourselves to the very foundations. So often church has been about Orthodoxy: believing the right things and staying within the rules.
So often we have used our own understanding of what God wants from us to cut people off, to cut them out of our fellowship, to call them names, and to break association with them. And in our righteousness, we have so often failed to see our own lack of love, our own failures, our own ego trips, our own need to make ourselves look better by comparison. When we fail to see our own sin, we fail to see our need for forgiveness – the greatest sin of all, and the sin which cuts us off from the mercy that God wants to pour out on us.
This unnamed woman knew that she needed what only Jesus could give: the peace that comes from knowing that your sin is wiped away, as she wiped the road dust from Jesus’ feet with her tears. Simon, on the other hand, was so sure that he was better than this itinerant preacher, that he hadn’t even bothered to be a good host.
You see, we all come to Jesus’ feet as beggars. We have no claim that we deserve to be here. All our goodness is flawed and ragged, unable to give any of us a reason to hold our head up in God’s presence. It is only through the love of God, shown to us in the very presence of Jesus in our world that we can even claim a place at this table. Trusting in God’s mercy, we come. We eat and drink of this feast prepared for us before the beginning of time, to remember that Jesus has lifted us and called us friends. Bring your fear of failure and your fear that you are not good enough to this table and lay it down. Bring your impatience with others and with yourself. Lay it all down and take the bread and wine of promise that you are accepted and loved and that your life is restored with God forever because of what Jesus did for you. Accept the healing of heart and soul as did all the women in the Gospel stories today. Then go out into the world rejoicing, looking for the places that only you can offer Jesus’ sweet gift of mercy to a hurting world.
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.