The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r178.htm
s178g13 Sunday 11
'Your faith has saved you.' Luke 7.50
This story, so simple in the telling, is actually very profound.
Jesus tells Simon his host that 'her sins have been forgiven
her' to explain the outpouring of devotion by the
woman. Perhaps Jesus is saying that Simon's relative
sinlessness and hence cool reception towards his guest is
entirely understandable. Taken at his word, Jesus
says that Simon's sins also were already forgiven on precisely
the same basis as the woman's.
The point of difference between Jesus and Simon is that Jesus
says that the creditor readily forgives the debts of
both. Simon expects the creditor to forgive his
small transgressions, but to not forgive the sinner woman her
It is significant that the story is completed with a note
telling of the large number of people who followed Jesus: the
twelve, some named women 'and many others'.
Clearly Jesus was initiating a community of friends not founding
a community of differently devout. So when Jesus
says: 'your faith has saved you' he is saying that she is saved
from the disapprobation of the devout and the orthodox - their
animosity rather than friendship.
And it is HER faith that has saved her. Somehow she
had realised that the import of the message of Jesus was that
her sins weren't important, it was her friendships that
mattered. She, by her friendships was a force for
community, whereas the devout and the orthodox were a force for
division in society.
I have noted before, that Jesus wasn't in fact particularly
interested in sins and forgiveness. He was far more
vocal about evil - divisions in society stemming from natural
and spiritual families.
When one reads the words of scripture we must see the conundrum
of 'honouring father and mother' and yet: 'Whoever comes to me
and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers
and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my
disciple.' (1) I suggest that the only way to
resolve this conundrum is to see that if our natural families
restrict our friendship for others (as in the Mafia) then we are
called to hate that restriction and love beyond the
walls. Concomitant to this we are called to hate the
religion which restricts our friendship to only those within the
The harm done by sins of individuals is minuscule in comparison
to the harm done by the continuing divisions within society.
Just at this particular time I am suffering from a period of
depression. I know what has caused it and I know
that it will pass. But this points out to me that I
have to believe my own words. I do spend my energies
being kind to all and trying to be a force for community rather
than division. I know that this is what is important
and that the reasons behind my depression are real yet past,
unalterable and, in the bigger scheme of things,
unimportant. I know that battle to have faith, faith
in myself, faith in friends around me, and faith in a God who is
infinitely more tender than one would gather from some of the
pronouncements the church makes.
Jesus' words don't criticise me for the lack of faith in the
midst of my depression. Faith is a real victory, and
it is a victory that more and more people who call themselves
secular humanists have won.
Jesus acknowledges that it is her faith that has brought her
forgiveness, it is her faith that saved her - not his largess or
his power. Jesus did not ask the woman to lavish
this devotion on him. He affirms that it is her
faith, not her outpouring of devotion on Jesus, that has won her
forgiveness and salvation. Jesus had no need of that
devotion and neither does God need our worship as if God
suffered from an enormous inferiority complex which needs to be
assuaged. God doesn't sell indulgences to buy
followers! God didn't sacrifice Jesus on the Cross
to get people to worship him/her self. That would be
altogether too grotesque! And if I was God and
choosing followers, I would actually prefer the thinking and
Jesus says here, and elsewhere (2) that people are forgiven, and
I point out that this is before Jesus being killed on the
Cross. And somewhere here I want to say that to talk
about the Cross as the forgiveness of our personal sins is to
buy into precisely what Simon thought important. If
the cross is about my personal forgiveness and my personal
relationship before God it remains essentially
selfish. It is only when this is transcended into
friendship with others that that selfishness is transcended,
however orthodox it might sound. If it is only
christians whose sins are forgiven, how are we any different
from Jesus' host, Simon, who considered his sins forgiven but
not those of this interloper?
But as I reflect more I suddenly realised that Jesus was being
seduced, both by the woman and by Simon. Simon's
invitation to the meal was to get Jesus to join his holy huddle,
the sort that St Paul describes in the first chapter of his
letter to the Romans, where men exchange natural intercourse
with women, and receive the just penalty. (3) We all
know of these 'old boys networks' - the sort that proclaim the
eternal importance of the perpetual virginity of Mary and yet
are silent on Jesus' libido. The sort that
marginalise women and alienate others. The sort that are a
cause of division in society.
In contrast, the woman was also trying to seduce Jesus in a most
public manner. She knew in whose house she was
present as an uninvited and unwelcome guest and she knew her
actions were provocative. She was proclaiming her
faith in the restorative power of intimacy - something of which
Simon and his ilk were afraid. It took away their
And so the faith of the woman and the faith of Simon were
entirely different and opposed and the faith of the woman
prevails. Intimacy wins.
I believe it is not insignificant that this encounter comes very
early on in Jesus' ministry, and likewise the words of St Paul
describing the evils of his previous devotion and orthodoxy so
early in his magnum opus - his letter to the Romans.
It sets the stage and defines the conflict.
And the outcome of the conflict, the ultimate in disapprobation
of the devout and the orthodox is to have Jesus
killed. Killed, not to forgive sins, but because he
confronted the selfishness and violence of
orthodoxy. But intimacy cannot be killed; new life
is ever possible.
No matter how devoutly and sincerely we host Jesus in our hearts
and in our congregations, like Simon we need to welcome the
outsider and the interloper, and to recognise that their sins
have also been forgiven quite independently from us and our
faith community. Jesus calls us to recognise that it
is fundamental to belief in him that it is not just our sins
that have been forgiven.
The woman's faith saved her from the disapprobation of the
devout and the orthodox. Whatever the details of
that faith are essentially unimportant. The
important thing is that she (and we) find that freedom from
disapprobation in the name of God. Free to live believing
in herself, in her friends and in the importance of intimacy.
May we too find ourselves saved from the disapprobation of
religion. I know only too well that I am my own worst
enemy when it comes to this. May we all find
affirmation, inclusion and freedom; for ourselves and for all
(1) Luke 14.26
(2) Mat 8.2 // Mk 2.5 // Lk 5.26
(3) Rom 1.28