The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s178g07 Sunday 11 17/6/07
'if this man were a prophet ..' Luke 7.39
As I read this passage and the very overt expressions of affection that this woman extended to Jesus, I thought it was Simon the Pharisee who was providing the meal for Jesus and his disciples. Perhaps 'the twelve' accompanied him, perhaps it included the women too, we do not know. It could have been a very expensive exercise for Simon, we cannot tell. Despite Simon's rather less effusive demonstrations of love, he had some regard for who Jesus was, for he wouldn't have bothered to invite him otherwise. And Jesus accepted the invitation to dine at this Pharisee's house.
We do Jesus a disservice if we think that he regards it as a competition between Simon the Pharisee and this anonymous woman. He is not comparing the two and their expressions of devotion the one intellectual, the other emotional.
What is the difference between Simon the Pharisee and this anonymous woman? Both express their devotion towards Jesus even though certainly Simon's expressions were rather less effusive and more socially acceptable. But Jesus is not here criticising people who are reserved and commending those who are 'out there'.
The difference is that in this encounter Simon the Pharisee is scandalized that Jesus accepts the devotion of someone else, someone who he regards as un-deserving of that acceptance. And this attitude leads him to question Jesus' standing. He could not be a prophet even. Immediately we see that it was Jesus' acceptance of others that led the theologically astute to question Jesus' qualifications.
As I read this story, I think of the debate over sexuality. The debate may be conducted on emotional or intellectual grounds, but neither of these is better than the other. The real point of difference is whether the love for God includes love for others as well.
Those who had Jesus killed were not dispassionate in their judgement and actions they HATED Jesus without cause. (John 15.25 Lam 3.52) No amount of calm logic was ever going to satisfy them.
Significantly Jesus doesn't mention forgiveness of Simon's sins, only the woman's. I draw your attention to the fact that neither Simon nor the woman actually ask Jesus for forgiveness, but the fact of this woman's prior absolution is stated.
And again, significantly, it is the woman who is said to have faith, faith enough to save her. Her faith, we have no idea of how orthodox, at least doesn't exclude others. Simon, for all his devotion and orthodoxy, misses out.
Simon's unwillingness to include the woman and hence to question who Jesus was, was a sign of lack of faith. His failure to include the other was a sign of his lack of faith and a sign that he put himself beyond any salvation Jesus offered, since Jesus could not even be a prophet.
Simon's unwillingness to accept and forgive the anonymous woman resulted in his own rejection by Jesus and Jesus' refusal to talk about forgiveness to Simon.
So OUR forgiveness and salvation is intimately linked to our acceptance of the other person that Jesus' salvation includes people who do not believe like ourselves or live like ourselves.
In the current debates over sexuality, time and again one finds theological and / or biblical logic and emotion are inextricably mixed, despite protestations to the contrary. Intellectual argument can often be an excuse to avoid intimacy and acceptance, yet so can emotional outbursts.
In my sermon for Trinity Sunday a couple of week's ago, I made what seemed a controversial statement: 'So .. our relationship to God and Jesus is quite immaterial .. if we think that the fact that we are 'christian' means that we are going to escape punishment for something which won't be overlooked in others then I suspect .. that we've got another think coming we are worshiping an unjust god! If we think that because Jesus has died and rose again for me, then my sins are forgiven in a way denied to someone else, then we are worshipping an unjust god.'
The key words are of course: 'forgiven in a way denied to someone else'. Simon wants his invitation to Jesus to the meal to place him in a privileged position in relationship with others, particularly women (like this one) who didn't know their place. Jesus details Simon's lack of the normal courtesies of life, which Simon no doubt expected Jesus to overlook. But just as Simon expected Jesus to overlook his sins, he expected Jesus to know the sins of this woman and not overlook them. Jesus knew the sins of both and also knew that the woman had found forgiveness.
I draw your attention to the fact that Jesus says of the woman 'her sins, which were many, have been forgiven'. Jesus hadn't, at that stage, died and rose to life. The Cross hadn't happened, yet she had found forgiveness. Clearly she had found forgiveness though not through the cross and resurrection or through some declaration of Jesus. So forgiveness was, and therefore remains, available to all, not just through Jesus and the Church.
Again from my Trinity Sermon I said 'the church is often perceived as obsessed about sin, when it is only the church that proclaims that we have certain forgiveness centred around the cross and resurrection. Somehow we proclaim forgiveness yet don't believe it ourselves. And perhaps this is because the forgiveness God achieved in the death and resurrection of Jesus was forgiveness for all. While we think in terms of forgiveness for Christians alone, which is untrue, we will always doubt, with some considerable justification, our own forgiveness.' The message is the same today. We can plead for our own personal forgiveness for as long as we like and all we will achieve is telling God in no uncertain terms that we do not believe in the Cross and Resurrection! When we believe in forgiveness for all, forgiveness for ourselves becomes a cinch and a forgone conclusion. We can get on with living life and accepting others a rather more pleasant place to be!
Again the Church's other primary focus is faith, and we dutifully recite the creed week after week. I have often wondered how many actually believe it! Some people have been telling me that they have their fingers crossed when they recite it :-)! Again, it is when we accept that other people are just as acceptable to God that we actually have faith, whichever creed we use. We can get on with living life and not spending our time and energy trying to convert others a rather more pleasant place to be!
No person who has lived and tried to love for any length of time has come through unscathed. In some people this can result in retreating into intellectual pursuits, others may try to get their way through emotional outbursts. Both our reason and emotions are important. I have no recipe for success at balancing these two aspects of life. But I do know the value of acceptance of others.
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