Friday, June 10, 2016

e-vo for week of June 8

Dearest e-votees,

This week's appointed gospel text is the account of the sinful woman who come's into a meal at Simon the Pharisee's house. During the meal a sinful woman comes in and anoints his feet. The Pharisee sees an opportunity sees an opportunity for judgment and derision but Jesus sees and opportunity for forgiveness and teaching.

What might we see when opportunities press into our lives that seem intrusive and bold and unsettling?



36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And 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. 38 She 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. 39 Now 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.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus 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 bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing 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 were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the 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 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, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 7:36-8:3, NRSV

This story is reminiscent of Mary anointing Jesus' feet and the dinner party where sister Martha was serving in the fresh-out-of-the-grave brother Lazarus' home(John 12:1-7). Jesus seemed to be able to evoke humble devotion from some while simultaneously drawing contempt from others. In the case of the party at Lazarus' place Mary poured herself out to Jesus while Judas sneered and wanted to capture the money for his own purposes. In this Sunday's text the sinful woman pours herself out to Jesus while the also sinful but perhaps not quite so self-aware Simon pours out judgment and disdain. Jesus sees through to the hearts and the truth of both situations.

Simon has some interest in Jesus. He wouldn't have had him over for a meal if that were not the case. Simon was favorably inclined, we can presume, towards Jesus otherwise he wouldn't have sullied his residence with a heretic. They could have met elsewhere. He was hoping for some sort of favorable exchange between himself and Jesus. He wasn't hoping that a sinner (what sort of sin is never specified) would come in and lay hands on his guest. The implication is that if Jesus were a prophet he would also know how tainted this woman is and not allow her to touch him. Simon, from his place of presumed purity, points out the dirty and the broken and the sinful.

The irony is that the only one who is pure and sinless in the room is Jesus. The only one who should be making moral pronouncements about others is Jesus. Everyone in the room knows that truly only God can forgive sins. And so here is Jesus forgiving sins. The stir around the table is rightly provoked as Jesus had made a divinity claim. Those who are estranged from God are welcomed. Those who were unclean are declared clean. And those who are enabled to receive this good news respond in love. The greater the experienced forgiveness the greater the love in response. There are two case studies here at the table.

To help Simon process what is going on Jesus teaches in a parable. There were to debtors one owed 50 denarii (a denarius was a day's wage so 50 would be a couple month's wages)--no small amount. The other owed 10 times as much--more like a year and a half's wages. Neither could pay their debts and the creditor writes off both debts. Jesus asks which of these two would love the creditor more? Simon steps into the rhetorical trap with "I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt." This is like the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). We expect those who have been forgiven much to be able to love others greatly (those who forgive them and those who they need to forgive much).

Jesus points out Simon's inactions which betray his heart. Simon had not greeted his guest, Jesus, with a kiss yet this "sinful" woman has showered Jesus with kisses. Simon had not provided Jesus with water to clean his feet (let alone clean them himself as Jesus did with the disciples on Maundy Thursday) yet this "sinful" woman had done so with tears of joy. Simon had not refreshed Jesus or blessed him with oil for his head yet this "sinful" woman had poured out ointment on his feet. Simon has not been loving in his actions. Perhaps because he did not feel forgiven. Perhaps because he thought he had no need for forgiveness. Perhaps his mind was consumed with self-righteousness and condemnation for others there wasn't a space for responding lovingly to Jesus let alone to this woman who had crashed the party.

The woman's actions betray her heart. She has been freed from her sins. In her freedom she choses to serve and bless others--Jesus in this case. This is a powerful example of Luther's "On Christian Freedom": "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all." When we are set free in Christ it allows us, invites us, compels us, draws us to be servants to one another. Jesus in his freedom entered this world, washed feet, taught and healed, suffered injustice and offered forgiveness to all who might receive. This woman set free enters into this house, washed feet, suffers injustice through the judgments of the host yet receives forgiveness from the only one who can truly offer it.

The woman leaves the party in peace and restored. We don't know about Simon. He is like the older brother in the story of the prodigal. Grace has been demonstrated in his presence. Forgiveness and reconciliation are there for him too. Will he receive them? Will we?

God, help us receive the forgiveness we so desperately need. Stir us to serve and to bless. Chase judgment out of our hearts that there might be room for grace, healing and restoration. Amen.

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