13/6/04 Year C - Trinty 1/Proper 6 - Luke 7:36-8:3
36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner." 40Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said. 41 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." 8 1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
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 cancelled."
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.
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 said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
In the Middle East of that day, teachers traveled from town to town, accepting the gifts of appreciative listeners. Jesus had a number of thankful women to whom he had ministered who supported him by their own means ( 8:3 ).
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.
We need to throw ourselves totally at the mercy of God.
Admit that we are sinners.
Believe that Jesus died in our place on the cross and rose again for us.
Confess our sins asking for God's forgiveness through Jesus' death for us.
Decide give control of our life to Jesus.
Express our joy and gratitude through selfless giving.
A slave was being auctioned in a slave market. The price went higher and higher until he was bought by an enlightened man who, once he had paid the price told the slave he was free to go.
The slave was overcome with gratitude. He accepted the offer, then pledged that he would serve his liberator as a slave for the rest of his life.
We can be thankful by sending Jesus God has delivered us from sin and death so we are free to know and follow God.
It would be good if the lavish devotion of the woman and the practical support of the women 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 "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled." ).
As we receive the bread and wine today, 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 generously gives.