Thursday, June 17, 2010
Seek the Grace
Luke 7: 36-50
When you are living as a Pharisee, by definition in that culture, you're going to live a largely blameless life. When Jesus says to the man later on in the story "when you sin little, you need to be forgiven little," he's not kidding. By that society's terms, this guy hasn't sinned much. We know people like this now; men and women, people who just seem to always do the right thing, are very wise in their choices, they never get out of hand with their money, they always get their oil changed on time, you know, those kind of folks. We know lots of folks like that, a lot of you all are those folks. The Pharisee is one of those kind of guys. He lives according to the strictures of his culture; he is largely doing what he supposed to do to be blameless and holy in his world.
He is successful in that, but even when people are living right, as we like to say, there are still sins that are wrestled with, and this guy has them too. One wonders what the motivation is to invite Jesus to lunch. Perhaps it's to be an advance look out, or, I don't want to say "spy", but the one who says "okay, I’m going to find out about this guy and I'll report back to my friends." Maybe that's what he's doing and he's reporting back to the other leaders of the town about this guy in their midst. Or maybe he's thinking "Ooh, I'm going to be the first one to get this new interesting hot figure in our town into my house and I will gain prestige from that!" Maybe he is honestly inviting a person into his house, inviting this new interesting teacher named Jesus, this possible prophet, because there may be something that he can learn from this guy. That may be his motivation. Luke is not real clear about why the invitation is made. He's just clear that it is.
So Jesus comes to lunch with his Pharisee. Commentators of this Scripture taught me a lot this week. They taught me, for instance, that when you go to dinner in this century, you're not sitting in chairs around a table. You're leaning on your left arm and eating with your right, and your feet are stuck out behind you at a 45° angle. That's the way it is all the way around the table. You're eating little bite size stuff, like dates or maybe rice pilaf, as you talk around the table. You use flatbread to pick up food and eat it, so your fingers aren’t in the common dishes. Jesus is laying at that angle with his feet sticking out backwards, so it's not immediately obvious that there's somebody messing with his feet because she's behind the person next to Jesus. Simon the Pharisee doesn't automatically see her.
So they are talking, and I'm sure Jesus is being probed on various theological topics, and then Simon notices the woman. The woman has taken her hair down, we're talking long hair, and she's wiping her hair on Jesus' feet to clean them. Remember, if these men and women have shoes at all, they are sandals, so their feet are always dusty. It's a custom, so as to not bring that stuff into the house, to have your feet washed or to do it yourself. Not only is she washing his feet, she's using her tears as water, and she's rubbing oil into his feet to soothe them because, as you know, when you wear sandals all the time, your feet do crack. Even Jesus' feet.
Simon knows who this woman is. The Scripture says that she is a sinner. It doesn't say what the nature of the sin is, but centuries and centuries of people thinking a certain way kind of have led us to understand to what they think that sin is. Let me be clear; it is not stated in Scripture what the sin is. But because she is a sinner, she is separated a certain degree from Simon, and Simon looks down on her. Okay there's another sin for Simon. We've got two now, possibly. He's looking down on her; he essentially considers her less of a human being, and he judges Jesus (the other is the possible issue of pride at inviting Jesus to the meal.) He says "Well, if Jesus really was a prophet, he would know what kind of woman that was, and he wouldn't allow her to touch him at all, anywhere!" In that culture, touching anybody who is in the status that she's in makes you a sinner, too.
So Simon has all kinds of cultural boundaries and cultural taboos going around in his head, and Jesus is merely simply receiving the gratitude of woman who realizes that her sins are forgiven. That's all that is really going on over here, and Simon's all kinds of twisted up and spun around with judgments and all that stuff. We're looking at a situation here where the person who seems to be the one who leads a more blameless life is sitting in a prison of his own resentments, and the woman who is supposedly a lower class citizen is a sinner or a taboo person, someone who's not to be touched, she is in the midst of feeling some amazing grace. We don't know what happened before she comes in; the Scripture leads us to believe that whatever forgiveness that she's feeling gratitude for, she already received outside the picture of the story. What we're seeing now is her response and gratitude to something that happened off stage. But here she is, feeling an amazing amount of gratitude and love and everything that comes with truly knowing that you are forgiven for your sin and that you are loved. Isn't it ironic that the person who is the blameless person in the society has no idea what that love feels like, and looks at it and doesn't know what it is? She knows what grace feels like, and she's responding to it.
Most of us have lived long enough lives that we've done something once. We know what shame feels like. I do. I'm a human being, I've done dumb stuff. I'd be willing to bet that everyone in here has done something once, at least. Do you know what shame feels like? I'd say we all do. But do you know what grace feels like? To know that whatever that dumb thing was that you did, that you truly have indeed been forgiven for that, and for everything else? Do you know? Is that why you're here this morning, because you have felt that and you are here out of gratitude? Sometimes you're here on a Sunday thinking "I'm here out of gratitude because I love God. I don't know what that doofus up there is saying, but I'm here because I'm feeling gratitude!"
The basic truth of our faith is that we are forgiven for our sins. I don't know how much more basic you can get that that. It seems to me that Jesus dying on the cross and being resurrected is pretty central to our faith, but at root, it starts with "You are forgiven for your sins." I think there are people that don't believe that. "Well, sure, whatever that woman did must've been really bad, I guess, and Jesus has already forgiven her, but hey, you know what, Jesus was right in front of her, and he cast his spell. She knew that she was forgiven because he was standing right in front of her, and I'm just not that lucky." Or even more basic, "Yeah, but my sins are pretty bad." You hear that all the time.
Folks, trust me. And if you don't want to trust me, some 42-year-old native Californian who has come in your midst for a certain time because the Bishop sent me, trust what you read in the Bible. Your sins are forgiven. Period. Now it takes a certain amount of strength to say, "Okay you know what, that is a sin and I need forgiveness," but everybody's got that much strength. Everybody has enough strength to get to the place where Grace is.
Here is my challenge for you all this week; everybody's got that thing that they have in the back of their minds that they don't want anybody to know about. They're not sure they can be forgiven for that one thing. Well, maybe this is the week that you trust God that you are forgiven for that sin, too. Maybe this is the week, and I encourage you to wrestle with it. Seek the grace this week.
And I pray that my words are the Lord's intention this day. Amen.