The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s178g13    Sunday 11   16/6/2013   Dunsandel

'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 whoppers.  

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 faith.  

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 friendly people.

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 power.

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 others.   Amen.

(1) Luke 14.26
(2) Mat 8.2 // Mk 2.5 // Lk 5.26
(3) Rom 1.28