4th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11
June 16, 2013
Here comes Jesus, breaking the rules again. Two weeks ago, he healed the slave of a pagan colonel without even being in the same room with him, last week, he touched a dead man, raising him from death and giving him back to his mother. This week, he’s letting some wretched woman break into a respectable dinner and perform an extremely intimate ritual in the presence of the rich and religious elite.
I’m sure you can imagine the scene. Simon, the Pharisee is an authority in the community, and he and his well-connected friends are going to have this upstart teacher over for a chat. It sounds as if Simon has not gone to much trouble over this meal. After all, Jesus is not in the same class as his rich and powerful cronies. I expect that Jesus stands out among them because his robes are not fancy or embroidered or trimmed with gold. He’s been invited because all the buzz is that he is a prophet, a miracle worker, and teacher of law that has captured the attention of ordinary people. The temple elite are always telling people how they have failed to keep the law of God, a code of behavior that is filled with rules and obligations about every act which humans perform in an ordinary day. How to wash, what they can make their clothes from, where they can shop and what they are allowed to eat, who can join them for meals and who can be invited to their homes. They demand scrupulous attention to every detail, as they themselves have done.
Jesus has done none of these things. His preaching and teaching has been about God’s concern for people. He’s not about God’s rules, he’s about God’s care. He has not discriminated between Jews and Gentiles in his teaching or healing. He has asked nothing, but still people have come to him with the longings of their hearts, besieged him with physical and spiritual questions, and been rewarded with his warmth and blessing as he answers their needs. After all, people do what God wants because they respond to God’s love for them, they don’t earn God’s love by keeping the rules.
I can just see the Pharisees looking down their noses at him, can’t you? What does this young whippersnapper think he’s doing running around on his own encouraging people who are out of line with their questions and their needs?
The prime example of their suspicions presents itself in the form of this woman who interrupts their dinner with her outrageous act. Luke doesn’t let us in on her backstory, but it seems pretty clear that this is not her first encounter with Jesus. We don’t know what her public error has been, but it’s clear that it has cut her off from ‘nice people.’ And it clear that Jesus has healed and forgiven her and restored her to a place in society. She is so profoundly grateful that she makes a complete spectacle of herself, probably embarrassing everyone around. Women’s tears and women’s unbound hair are definitely not acceptable at a table full of prominent men. But dear Jesus, he accepts her gift of love in the grateful spirit in which it is offered, honoring the dignity that he has restored to her through his forgiveness.
So what is the connection between forgiveness and gratitude and love? Jesus said that she showed great love because she had been forgiven much. Are we forgiven because we love God, or do we love God because we are forgiven? My mind snaps back to the story of David and Nathan. David had been so caught up in his own power that he didn’t even see his own offense. He had committed great sin against the woman he claimed for his own satisfaction, her husband who he had murdered, and against God who had put him in power and given him great success as a warrior and a king. He completely understood the offense of the man in the story Nathan tells him, but he doesn’t see himself as an offender. “You are the man!” says the prophet. “You have lowered yourself to this level and made a mockery of all that God has given you.”
As much as I love the story of this shocking woman and her profound gratefulness, this story points a finger right at me, the comfortable, privileged, white, middle-class recipient of God’s enormous gifts. And those gifts are mine simple because God loves. In all the ups and downs of my life, God has always been with me, forgiven me, blessed me, and brought new joy to me. Seeing how blessed we are changes us. It opens us to want to be loving and forgiving as we have been loved and forgiven.
I am so moved by this woman’s gratitude, and so disturbed by it at the same time. I did nothing to earn the love of God and the blessings showered on me. Nothing. But they have come to me because God loves. God loves sinners. And that would be me. Stingy with my praise, numbed to the enormity of blessings that surround me, easy with my self-concern and inattentiveness to the needs of those who have less, careless with the gifts that have been bestowed on me. I am not a great sinner, but that doesn’t matter. I am a sinner nonetheless. And God loves me. God forgives me. God lifts me. And God never fails to be with me, even when I carelessly pay no attention. Meister Eckhart says that if the only prayer we ever prayed in our whole lifetime was “Thank you,” that would be enough. I pray that you will see the blessings that surround you, and kiss the feet of Jesus as you thank God that you are loved.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.