Monday, June 14, 2010

Third Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 7:36-8:3
Bror Erickson

[36] One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. [37] And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, [38] and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. [39] Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "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." [40] And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher."
[41] "A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" [43] Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." [44] Then 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." [48] And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." [49] Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" [50] And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
[8:1] Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, [2] and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, [3] and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. Luke 7:36-8:3 (ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." [48] And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."

It is an odd story. Jesus gets invited to dinner at the house of a Pharisee, and then is offered none of the polite niceties normally given to a house guest in that culture. There is no servant girl to unlatch his sandals and wash his feet, not even any water offered for him to wash his own feet. No greeting with a kiss, as common as a handshake in those parts, no perfumed oil for his head. Jesus has been invited to a theological roast. The Pharisee is having dinner with his friends and thinks it will be good fun to invite this upstart to have dinner with them. Jesus who has been causing such a stir among their brethren. See if the man really is a prophet, test him a little, match wits.
But the Pharisee isn’t the only one that lives in this town. There is a woman. A sinner. The text leaves it open as to what her sins are. They are many. I get the impression that they are a lifetime of being taken advantage of by different men in the village. Never being loved. What ever they were, she knew her sin, evidently the Pharisee did too. These weighed on her. They would bring her to despair, eat at her soul. She knew they were wrong, and she hated herself for doing them. She felt trapped. Like there was no way out. No one treated her as a person. No one cared for her.
She had heard of Jesus. Maybe she even went to hear him once or twice. Perhaps one of those people that heard Jesus preach the beatitudes took those words to heart, came back to the village, for the first time in a long time offered this woman a smile in the street, a friendly smile. For the first time the woman talks to someone who takes an interest in her without ulterior motives, without trying to take advantage of her. For the first time she feels like someone might actually love her. Someone hugs her, eats with her in public. And the person explains to her the sermon they heard, how Jesus’ preaching convicted them of their own sin, and of God’s love. “Perhaps this man is the Messiah”? The woman experiences the love of Jesus, through the love of a Christian. Learns of his teachings. Learns of his love for all people, how he heals them, and curiously does so by forgiving sins.
Now when this woman hears that Jesus is in her town nothing is going to stand in her way. She goes to that side of town she is only welcome in after dark, when few if any will see her leaving by the back door. She buys some perfume. She makes her way to Simon the Pharisee’s house. She seems to know the house well enough. She can pick out the stranger anyway. She kneels at his feet. Her love for this man who has brought love into her loveless life gushes forth in tears. She knows this man, though she has never seen him. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the one who forgives sins. The one who loves sinners like her. The one who has taught others to love, even as they are loved by God. The one who loves her, who doesn’t lust after her, or despise her in other ways, but forgives her. And forgiving her, has given her hope, given her life.
Of course her eyes well up with tears. Here she is at his feet. And beautiful on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news! (Isaiah 52:7) Beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news! (Romans 10:15) Beautiful are these tired and sore feet that have carried this man, this message of love and forgiveness, to her town. Beautiful are his feet that have traveled the rocky, and dusty road, these feet so abused a pair of sandals, a hard piece of leather between them and the road. How beautiful these miserable dirty feet that have not yet been washed. And he eyes fill up with tears as she kneels at his feet, daring to do what John the Baptist felt himself unworthy to do. She cries all over them washing them with her tears, drying them with her hair. She wasn’t prepared for the tears, she didn’t bring a towel. She lets her hair fall on his feet with no shame. (Good women did not let their hair down in public, that was for their husbands alone.) She dries them, these feet with her hair before massaging them with the perfumed oil she bought. And the Pharisee is indignant.
Now the trap has sprung beyond his wildest dream. Here in his own dining room, at his own table, in the midst of his friends, this man Jesus, dares let such a scandalous scene unfold, that a sinful woman, a woman they all know so well, lets her hair down in their sight, sobs at his feet and touches and caresses them. What prophet would do this? What Prophet would allow this. Surely if this man were a prophet he would not tolerate this outburst. Surely if this man were a prophet he would scorn this woman for her sin, even as him and his friends did. Does not God’s law demand she be stoned?
So Jesus tells an equally scandalous tale of a money lender. Remember this too is an illegal activity, but one everyone knows well enough. Why give money, when you can make interest? Why would you just loan money at 0% interest? Why would you love your fellow man so much as try not to make a profit off their work when you have done nothing but loan them money you had sitting around doing nothing, more than you yourself needed to live off of. See this is why Jews never loaned money to fellow Jews, and Christians the same through the middle ages. And when ever you borrowed too much from the Jewish community, you invited San Juan Capistrano into the neighborhood to preach, because he was ever so good at vilifying the Jews and getting the community to riot against them. It was a very convenient way of not paying back your loans, the loans that had enslaved you. The story ends which loves the lender more. Then Simon the Pharisee answers the one who had been forgiven more debt.
Makes sense doesn’t it. Perfect sense. So the women, whose sins are many is forgiven, for she loved much, for he who is forgiven little loves little. The key to understanding the first statement is made in the second. The first statement should not be taken as we so often want it to be taken, that if we love much, God will forgive us much. It really can’t work that way, can it? We don’t love much to be forgiven much. First comes forgiveness, then love. This woman, she knew her sins were forgiven long before she got to the Pharisee’s house. It was the love she knew of Jesus that drove her to the house. She had heard Jesus, she knew Jesus. Do you?
Have we been forgiven much or little? I dare say more than we will ever know we have been forgiven by Christ. More than you will ever know you have been forgiven. Perhaps our sins are the same as the woman’s. Perhaps we are more like the Pharisee, and due to the breaks in life have had more socially acceptable sins to be our downfall. Yes it is funny. Some sins are socially acceptable, some are not, though they all end the same way death. It wasn’t cheap being a Pharisee by the way, finding peasants to do all your dirty work for you so, you could remain ritually clean and all that. Like the na├»ve kid who doesn’t think he is responsible for the death of the cow he is eating in his hamburger, and then thinks the butcher is a bad person. Aren’t we that way? Guilty as anybody else in this world. We should all be tearing up like this woman when we contemplate the forgiveness that Christ gives us in this world. We should all be tearing up when he feeds us his body given into death for you, gives us his blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
And yet so often our reaction is that of the Pharisee. A love so indiscernible it could be mistaken for indifference. We neither well up with tears at his feet, nor honestly try to amend our lives. All the time claiming that we love the lord, and hoping that if we convince ourselves we love him much, we might also convince him, and he would forgive us even our indifference. Neither hot nor cold, I spew you out, lukewarm pickled herring. We skip church. We bail on Bible Study. Sunday morning Divine service is an obstacle in the way of a camping trip if it isn’t raining, a football game, a fishing trip. Confirmation is just a chore, after a decade of neglecting to bring our kids up in the fear of the Lord, and we think God should be happy with us when we put five dollars in the offering plate after spending $40 at the movies, and another $50 at dinner, not to mention the $30 in gas to get there. Have we been forgiven much or little? And then we see the example of these women forgiven of their sins.
They become those beautiful feet of the gospel, supporting Jesus and his disciples from town to town, giving what they can, where they can. So it is with us. Having been forgiven much, we learn to love much. We can donate to charity after charity, show love to our neighbor, the love of Christ, moved as we are by his love for us. Today so often the church is despised as a charity. But what better charity can there be, then one that supports the work of Christ in the world, spreading the gospel from town to town. And that is not easy! And yes at times these earthly institutions we call church, perhaps forget themselves what they are to be doing. And at those times it is worth calling their leaders to task. Though often that is done for the same reason as Judas criticizing the expense of perfume poured on the head of Jesus. The Lord’s servants deserve their wages, those who preach the gospel ought to make their living from the Gospel, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. A beautiful sanctuary to worship in stands as a testimony to the faith of those who worship, the upkeep and maintenance of the church is a lasting work of evangelism. Even as the Beauty of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul today, though now a mosque, serves as a testimony to the beauty of the Christian faith, and the brutal ugliness of the Muslim faith that has defaced it. This is to say nothing of the support for missionaries, and seminaries, and schools all of which make it possible for others to hear the good news, pastors to be trained in the gospel to teach the gospel. This is why we support our synod, even if at times we disagree with the leadership. We can’t be church on our own as we can’t be Christian on our own. Christians support the work of the church, because they love Christ, and want others to hear. And perhaps we can have faith enough of ourselves to our dying day to be saved without going to church. But what kind of faith would that be? What kind of faith would not support the work of the church that others could hear the gospel? That their children and grandchildren would hear the gospel, and be brought up in this love for the Lord? What kind of faith would that be, but really no faith at all, and then can we blame the world for not believing? What kind of faith is it that produces a love mistaken for indifference?
And yet no one can mistake his love for us. No one can mistake the love of God for his people, whose sins are so many. You cannot mistake his love for you when you contemplate the Body given into death for you, the blood shed for the forgiveness of you sins, his life given that you whose sins are so many, would have life, life that knows love, the love of God.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Bill N. said...

Thank you for this. It gives one a lot to think about.

There was one place where you used the word "prophet" and I think you ment "profit". A small thing in an otherwise well written post.


Bror Erickson said...

Hate when I do those things. Thanks Bill.