Today’s story is unique in several ways.
So often we miss key parts to the story because we have heard it so many times, or we conflate it, with stories from other gospels that have similar elements.
There is actually a cloud that begins to overtake this not-so-simple dinner scene. And into the darkening sky, Jesus brings light, in a surprising way.
Let’s look closer and see what we already know.
Questions to congregation:
Who is the host? (What does that tell us? )
What does he DESIRE from this dinner? (Pharisee comfortable w/Jesus? Thought he’d be entertaining? Might raise his status to have Jesus there? Might obligate Jesus to reciprocate... )
Who is the UN-invited guest?
What do we know about her?
(NOTE, “a sinner” what is her sin? Not stated, ASSUMED for years to be what? And yet, only that a Pharisee sees her as sinner, means doesn’t live according to Torah.1 Which means what?...Usury? Mid-wife? Too much contact with Gentiles? Too bold for the men? IMPORTANT TO NOTE WHAT IS NOT SAID...)
What is the desire of HER heart?
Setting info: Guests are Reclined at table..spokes in a wheel, laying on pillows, left arm, eating from mat or low table with right hand. Feet outward. Explains how she could come in (through open courtyard likely) and be at Jesus’ feet.2
Assumptions effect our interpretation of this story and text as a whole. ASSUMPTIONS are what got the Pharisee into an embarrassing situation.
Once again, Jesus isn’t the polite guest...
Not only does he allow the woman to continue her gift of washing feet with tears and anointing them with oil. He contradicts the Pharisee’s thoughts by posing a riddle of sorts. (apparently common to do so, like parlor games..)3
Jesus seems to ‘rub’ the insult in with his pointed comparison
How could we HEAR that story today? What story would Jesus tell us?
|from Vanderbilt library|
What riddle would he pose?. . .
Think about what debts you owe. (mortgage, school loans, credit cards,) Now imagine getting a call or letter (not a scam..) saying, all debt cancelled! How good would you feel?
And yet most of us have the ability to pay our debts, eventually at least we would pay them off.
Now compare that feeling to someone who has just received an eviction notice, been told their job was being eliminated, facing debts, with NO income and potentially homeless. How good would THEY feel? And we are still only speaking of money.
So we get a little bit of the feeling of gratitude in this woman’s heart that she seeks to express by finding Jesus in a setting where she DARES to approach him. (Risking shame and ridicule) Her courage tells us that she has ALREADY experienced forgiveness & acceptance thru Jesus’ love. Can we identify with her?
Is it easier to identify with the Pharisee? We are the host of a dinner party and the guest we thought could bring us status, allows a woman (an undesirable) to wipe his feet, let down her hair (a questionable act) and anoint him.
THEN, when our guest sees our discomfort, he poses a riddle which -- when we offer the obvious answer, turns the tables on us.. more shame?
. . .It’s a wonder Jesus ever got invited to dinner. . .
We’ve likely been in situations where we felt shamed. (our desire was what? to disappear from the earth, or seek revenge, or?
. . .
Shame is often a personal feeling. But have you felt a more corporate shame? Can we accept blame for being part of a system that allows injustice to continue?
Today we are emphasizing African American Spirituals many of which were born during slavery. None of us lived then. :-) and yet we bear the responsibility for racial injustice that continues today.
Perhaps none of us has ever
held back another person due to race,
restricted our invitations due to gender- orientation,
failed to hire someone because they were the gender and age that might bear children. .
Or any of the many reasons we draw walls and restrict access.
There are hundreds of situations over which we think we have no control.
They can be the source of shame and their healing may be the desire of our hearts. Which bother you the most?
In today’s story, “Simon was willing to let things be the way they were, [status quo, means no risk for us if we are comfortable] after all, that's our “traditional” way of doing things -- (traditional is often a code word for ‘leave it alone’) The desire of his heart was to hang onto the status he had or elevate it.
yet, Jesus was about calling out what doesn't give life, regardless of who, what... The desire of Jesus’ heart was/ is the wholeness of all people. (Even when getting to wholeness means discomfort first.)
Jesus was about forgiving, and welcoming new orders of things, even before "the old system" was willing, or even understood what was going on.4
When we face the systemic evils in need of healing, & forgiveness in our world, the individuals in this story can represent whole classes and races and types of people.
This scripture has caused debate on many fronts because people want to argue whether forgiveness generates love (as in the woman was forgiven first then demonstrated her love) or
whether love is the ground of forgiveness.5 debates which can only take away from the power of the story.
Perhaps when we are confronted with grace this awesome, it is too good to believe...so we seek to clarify it and even argue with it. Yet the point6 is that love and forgiveness are inseparable.. .. . . ... That love and forgiveness is the desire of God’s heart for us.
Love and forgiveness are the only way to inject healing into the shame of nations and people.
If perpetrators of destructiveness and death (such as those we have mentioned) are in need of forgiveness, just as we are in need of forgiveness for our complicity or our complacency,
And if even nations are in need of forgiveness in order that love might rule the day. . .
Then what everyone needs is our prayers of Love,
our offers of forgiveness to others and
Our acceptance of forgiveness from God
ALL..so that the LOVE we ALL desire. .can truly make a difference.
. . .
1 Jeannine K. Brown Bethel Seminary St. Paul MN workingpreacher.org “it is commonplace for commentators to assume that she is a prostitute, as if the only sin a Jewish woman of the first century could commit would be sexual sin.”
2 Alan Culpeper NIB IX (Nashville:ABingdon,1995)170
3 ibid culpeper 170
4 Sharon on revgalblogpals 6/15/13
5 Boring and Craddock Peoples NT commentary (Louisville:WJK,2004)207