By mtaylor | Wednesday, June 15, 2016 | 12:14 PM
June 12, 2016
“Do you see what I see?”
Cary G. Speaker, D.Min.
Simon the Pharisee gives Jesus no water for washing; the nameless sinner gives Jesus the water of her tears. Simon gives Jesus no kiss of greeting; the woman continually kisses his feet. Simon gives Jesus no oil for anointing, she extensively anoints his feet. She is known as “a woman of the city.” It is easy to broad-brush her as a prostitute, but the story does not say it. The Bible is not shy to label characters in stories as prostitutes. So maybe this woman’s public sin is so well known that it does not need to be said. Maybe she has been charged with multiple counts of ethics violations. Maybe she got rich off of sub-prime mortgages. Maybe she was the CEO of a local company that inflated the value of its stock. Maybe her former head of security “spilled the beans” about what was supposed to be private behavior. It was not just Simon who knew she was a sinner. Everyone knew.
This unnamed woman does not wander in off of the street as if she had nothing better to do. She came prepared. She brought her alabaster jar of anointment. She had a purpose. She was determined. But what about her shame?
What do we know of shame? Shame is often the unrecognized underlying factor in great social tragedies such as addiction and violence. To be a victim of public shame leads to one becoming the object of ridicule and shunning. The shamed ones are dismissed and pushed to the margins, where no one will see them. Those who struggle with chronic shame cannot escape the label of “unworthy.” It is for them, for the woman in this story, for all of us, that Jesus offers forgiveness and acceptance. It is that graceful love of Jesus that lifts the heavy burden of shame. It is the graceful love of Jesus that allows us to forgive ourselves and offers us the freedom of an authentic life lived in love and gratitude.
Jesus asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?” Simon says, “Sure. I see her. So what?” But he does not see her as Jesus sees her.
Do many of you like to do the Sudoku puzzles? Crossword puzzles? Words with friends? I have a theory about the popularity of these games. I think we appreciate the regularity of the puzzle patterns and the consistency of the problem solving strategies. Maybe you look forward to starting your day with a Sudoku puzzle because no matter how chaotic the rest of the day is, you can remember back to the soothing comfort of how everything fit together perfectly. Something similar could be said about cross word puzzles, or “words with friends.” Stick with this puzzle imagery for a bit longer. I think most of the Gospel stories about Jesus, and particularly his parables, are more like the hidden picture puzzles. Do you remember what I am talking about? Remember the line drawing pictures and the instructions that say to circle the twelve faces in the tree. The story of Jesus does not fit neatly together. Sometimes the pieces do not seem to fit. And the stories usually are filled with hidden surprises.
I do not usually do this in sermons, but I think this may help to get the picture Luke has painted for us. Drop back just a bit in chapter seven. An outsider, a Roman centurion comes to Jesus asking him to heal his slave. Of course he does. This is Jesus’ long distance healing. Next Jesus stops his travels to touch a casket in his response to a grieving widow and raises her son from death to life. Luke says that the message of Good News is clear: it is for all people. The powerful Roman soldier and his powerless slave, the suffering widow and her restored son. Today we hear the story of God’s gracious forgiveness of a sinner considered unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus.
Luke begins his version of the Gospel with angels proclaiming “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people” (2.10). Jesus is living out the Gospel. But not everyone is happy about that. My mother would say that Simon the Pharisee was “rude” to Jesus. Simon invites Jesus to dinner, but we see no genuine hospitality. I wonder if Simon brought in Jesus to amuse his sophisticated friends. Perhaps Simon saw Jesus as cheap after dinner entertainment. It is not that Simon overtly did anything wrong, but he stopped at perfunctory etiquette, rather than honoring Jesus as a guest with heart-felt hospitality.
The last thing the unnamed woman in this story wanted was to be the center of attention. Whatever draws her to Jesus is stronger than the shame she feels from public exposure. Even Simon’s snide comments cannot change her course of action. She is on a mission. Have you ever been in the situation when you have to walk to the center of the ridicule in order to express your love and gratitude? Before Jesus says a word to her, the tears that flow freely tell us something has happened. She already knows the power of his love and acceptance. It is the overwhelming feeling of freedom and gratitude that releases her tears.
The parable Jesus tells Simon serves to reinforce what Jesus acts out with the woman. The creditor forgives the debt. There are no conditions of repayment. The debt simply disappears. It is as though it was never there, except for the one who is forgiven. It is God’s love and forgiveness that come first. We see the woman. We watch her response to the forgiveness she receives from Jesus. We see the connection between grace and gratitude.
Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven . . . go in peace.” What Jesus offers is more than a forgiveness that wipes the slate of debt clean. The forgiveness Jesus offers all of us lifts our burden of shame. The love of Christ gives us value and worth in spite of how unworthy we feel. It is the forgiveness of Christ that releases us from feeling like failures. Jesus reminds Simon that this freedom from sin is a gift from a loving God.
A heart that is bound by sin and shame withers and dies. The love of our forgiving God lifts us beyond even our greatest dreams and inspires us to sing in gratitude.
The woman labeled as a sinner is all of us. When Simon Peter is called to be a disciple he falls at Jesus’ knees and cries, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In that story Luke does not name Peter’s sin. The sin of the woman with the alabaster jar is not named. Can we shift our tabloid curiosity away from what sins have been committed to focus on how in their sinfulness they have served Christ? Just as broken and flawed as Peter, this woman becomes a means of grace for the glory of God. I find great hope for me in this story.
Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee, “Do you see this woman?” Simon can only see the sinner. Jesus sees a daughter of Abraham. She is a member of our family. She has a claim on the goodness and mercy of God. Jesus sees her differently than Simon sees her. Throughout the Gospel story, Jesus offers many gifts. One of the miraculous gifts Jesus offers us is the gift of sight. Jesus is the lens through which we see the world. When we look through Jesus we see things the rest of the world does not see. We notice things and people that the world overlooks. The great good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are called to be part of this gospel of radical inclusion. Do you see what Jesus sees?