17/6/01 6 p.m. Trinity 1/Proper 6 : Luke 7:36-50
William Blake, English poet and artist (1757-1827); "The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness." Today's gospel is an illustration of this.
The background is that Jesus was gaining popularity amongst those considered irreligious and without hope by the religious leaders who opposed him. The word Pharisee meant "separated one," they were teachers in the synagogues, religious examples in the eyes of the people and self-appointed guardians of the law and its proper observance. They considered the interpretations and regulations handed down by tradition to be virtually as trustworthy as Scripture (Mk 7:8-13).
Although some, no doubt, were godly, most of those who came into conflict with Jesus were hypocritical, envious, rigid and formalistic. According to Pharisaism, God's favour extended only to those who kept his law.
We are not told why Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner although, if you read between the lines, it was probably motivated by a desire to trap Jesus rather than to learn from him.
Simon condemns Jesus as not being a prophet, or spokesman of God ( verse 39 ). His logic was: a prophet would know that he was being touched by a sinful woman; a prophet should be separate from sinners; and therefore, Jesus cannot be a prophet. In condemning Jesus, Simon reveals his own lack of knowledge of God, whereas Jesus shows his complete knowledge of people, and especially Simon, by telling the parable of two debtors.
Simon will not accept that he has to repent from his self-righteousness, as shown by his grudging response to Jesus parable, verse 43, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
Verse 30 tells us, 'But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John. John's baptism was one of repentance, renouncing sin and turning to God. The Pharisees would not do this because of their pride. Simon is an illustration of this.
In contrast we have, verse 37, a woman who had lived a sinful life. She was undoubtedly regarded as immoral, perhaps she was a prostitute. At this time it was customary to allow the poor in to a banquet to receive the left-overs. Yet, rather than being there to receive in the background she gives a valuable gift and becomes a central figure ! She must have heard Jesus preach, seen him mixing with 'sinners' and in repentance she decided to lead a new life. She came out of love and gratitude, in the understanding that she could be forgiven.
alabaster jar. A long-necked, globular bottle. perfume. A valuable perfumed ointment which was often kept as an investment. If it was nard it would cost a years salary per pound. stood behind him at his feet. Jesus reclined on a couch with his feet extended away from the table, which made it possible for the woman to wipe his feet with her hair and still not disturb him. poured perfume on them. The anointing, perhaps originally intended for Jesus' head, was instead applied to his feet. A similar act was performed by Mary of Bethany just over a week before the crucifixion (Jn 12:3).
This contrasted with the inhospitable Simon who had failed to grant Jesus the common courtesies shown to a guest : washing his feet; greeting him with a kiss; and putting oil on his head ( verses 44-46 ).
Her act was extravagant, loving, caring, humble, and bold, because she would have known how this looked to people there who knew her. Her radical trust in Jesus led to her receiving forgiveness for her sins and peace with God, verse 50.
Jesus is shown to be more than a prophet, someone who speaks the words of God. He claims to be God by forgiving this woman's sins for, as any Jew would know, only God can forgive sin. This is what astounded the other guests.
Jesus is from God, and is God, who ministers love and forgiveness, conscious of opportunity that exists when sinners are loved. Sin is not ignored, but can be overcome when God's love is received. This contrasts with the Pharisees' separatism. God the Father will forgive the debts of those who humbly turn to him. Jesus is central, he is the one in whom faith has to be placed and he is the only one who can forgive sins.
Two verses from today's epistle summarizes this gospel account. Galatians 2:15 "We who are Jews by birth and not `Gentile sinners' 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Perhaps there is part of us that is like the Pharisees. We would like to think that we are saved by our own goodness, our will power, attractive personality, stunning wit, overwhelming intellect and staggering good looks ! But we are not, we are saved by faith which is a free gift from God to undeserving sinners.
It would be good if the lavish devotion of the woman was mirrored by all those who have received God's grace. Sometimes the response of Christians is more grudging, like that of Simon ( verse 43 ).
As we receive the bread and wine tonight, may we do this humbly and thankfully as we recall what God has done for us in Jesus. Let us go out determined to respond extravagantly to the love and forgiveness that Jesus has generously given us.