Scripture: Luke 7:36-8:3
Most of what I say on Sundays is to promote deeper thinking and contemplation. I know that at times that can cause us to be uncomfortable, mainly because the approach I take is probably different than what we are used to. That is actually a generational thing. The post-modern culture focuses more on the journey than the destination, they enjoy the process of finding the answer more then the answer themselves. That being said the post-modern culture does not reject truth they just like to find truth for themselves. This is a significant shift in our culture.
For those of us living at the time of the shift, we tend to be torn. We begin to think that everything we care about or have cared about has been overturned. We tend to think that what we hold dear is not cared about in this new world we live in, but one thing still remains. Love.
I speak quite often on cultural shifts because this is really what is going on in the first century Jewish culture. They are on the brink of a monumental change. They like everyone here are faced with holding fast to what they knew before or embracing something different or unknown.
Jesus, at this point in time, is a curiosity to the established people of the Jewish culture. He is a teacher that has taken an extreme view on things. It is not that they do not agree with what he is doing, they question how and when he does it. They are not sure how to explain it. The Pharisees were the ones with all the answers; they have volumes of research that has documented the answers. They know the right words to say in each and every situation. They have ways to pray for healing, ceremonies to facilitate the exorcism of demons, each technique documented and passed on to the next generation by learned scholars. But Jesus is different, he heals by saying a word, by spitting on the ground and rubbing the mud on the eyes of the blind, he can even raise the dead. They are curious because he is doing things that go beyond their traditions and understandings. To top this off his teachings come to the truth, many of the same truths that they themselves preach from a different perspective.
This is why this Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him in his house. Jesus is a teacher within the community and the leaders want to determine if Jesus is an ally or opposition. Before the various groups can speak in support of Jesus they first have to determine if he is a supporter of their doctrine and theology.
Consider this for just a moment. Theology is the study of God. Theology is crowning glory of science especially in the ancient world. Yes I call it science. A science is an in-depth study of something, it is a continuous study, ever learning and growing. The curiosity of humanity drives us to discover and find answers. But there is a risk involved in this sort of study as well. Some disciplines of science get comfortable with what has already been proven, and they continue to repeat the same things again. These theories become laws, and the laws often times go unchallenged. Yet ever so often someone challenges the law, and things begin to get interesting. Einstein challenged Newton and as a result the study of Physics exploded with new studies trying to disprove or prove this new theory, and eventually even Einstein’s theories are disproved and replaced with a more advanced idea. It is these challenges that have given us the things we enjoy and require today.
This is where we find Jesus and the first century culture. They are lock into a debate about theology. There are a couple schools of thought in this area. One side of the debate is the old guard standing on tradition, then there is a new guard that has a different idea, but even these new ideas are being challenged.
Jesus is sitting at the table surely engaging in a deep discussion about the finer things of religion when suddenly there is a commotion at the door. A woman rushes in, falling at the feet of Jesus. She begins to weep, her tears fall onto Jesus’ feet and she begins to wipe them with her hair. This passage creates a very interesting scene, a scene of griping emotion and confusion.
Simon the Pharisee knows this woman (we do not know how he knows her but he knows her.), and he knows what kind of woman she is. In his worldview, in his lifestyle it is unfit for his class to associate with women like her. Any contact could soil his reputation. In his mind, under his understanding of theology, righteous people would and should not associate with this woman in any way. He begins to build a case against Jesus, because of this. “If he were a prophet he would know what kind of woman she is.”
Jesus does know who she is. He knows her more deeply than anyone else. He knows the emotional pain, the spiritual longing, and the hardship she has endured in this climate. He knows why she is in the position that she is in, the various decisions made to bring her to this point. She is there at his feet weeping, wiping, and anointing His feet. The greatest thing is that He lets her.
As the righteous people become more uncomfortable, Jesus begins to speak. “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He begins to tell a parable, comparing two debtors. One has a debt of 500 denarii, the other 50. Each cannot pay their debt. If you think about it how could they and survive? The denarius is a day’s wage, meaning the lower of the two debts would take over a month if not two to pay off, and the other over a year. This is a time before Dave Ramsey could teach them how to live debt free on the radio. These men were just doing what they could to survive and they have found themselves in a bad place, unable to see a way out. The man that owns the note from these men sees them and forgives the debt. I wish this guy controlled my student loans. Then Jesus asks, “Simon which of the men loves him more?”
Which loves him more? It’s a simple question; even the youngest child would know that the one forgiven of the greater debt would love the benefactor more. Yet this same simple question is one that challenges us to the core, because this question raises the question of many of our commonly held theological practices.
This woman is sitting at the feet of Jesus weeping, and she is a woman of great debt. Simon is sitting in his place of honor yet he knows that Jesus has seen a debt in him as well. Jesus says to Simon that he did not even show him the common curtsies of the day, he did not offer someone to wash Jesus’ feet, he did not kiss him, or anoint him with oil. Simon by doing so was saying that Jesus was not worth his effort, until he could prove his value. Yet this woman offered Jesus much more than Simon ever could. Why?
Jesus then looks at the woman, the woman who everyone knows, and says to her that her sins are forgiven. With a simple pronouncement Jesus, turned the theological world upside down. Her faith has saved her, not sacrifice, not disciplines; it was not the things that the theological debaters debated. It is not the answers, but the journey. It was her seeking, her risking everything that she had and laying it all on the floor before Jesus.
A couple of weeks ago the essence of my sermon was that if our theology does not love more than people without theology it is worthless. This is the very same thing that Jesus is saying in. Who loves the one the debt forgiver more? And how are we attracting people to this place?
Jesus attracted this woman through his love for the people. He would spend time talking and walking among the common people. He was chastised by the righteous ones because he spent time with sinners and tax collectors. He saw them where they were and even so he taught them, healed their diseases, and gave them hope. He attracted people to himself not out of his own righteousness, which he had plenty of, but because he offered them a better life. That better life came by encouraging them to repent.
This in itself is the same message that the Pharisees, the Sadducees, even the Essences were teaching. The difference is the starting point. For the righteous you first have to meet expectations within the community before you are acceptable, Jesus accepted his followers first and then built them into the community.
Look at the disciples, how did Jesus call them? He saw Peter and the other fishermen on the shore and said follow me. He saw Matthew the tax collector sitting at his table and said follow me. He saw a wee little man up in a tree and said to him, I’m going to your house today, and that man quickly came down from his tree and invited him into his house. Jesus accepted all these people as they were and offered them a new life. Follow me…he did not require that they had anything specific at that point, just a willingness to follow or to say another way to come and see.
Jesus offers a kingdom to anyone that just turns from his or her current path, to follow Him. This is revolutionary. Simon sat in judgment of the woman because she was a sinner, yet Jesus had compassion. Jesus offered the kingdom and Simon offered only shame. Jesus says to the woman, “go in peace.” She entered Simon’s house a sinner and she leaves at peace with God.
She is not the only one. Jesus left the house and continued to minister in the cities and villages, followed by the twelve, and women cured of evil spirits and illnesses. Even Mary Magdalene who was cured of seven spirits, and others from high and low status. They were all welcomed onto the path; all left something behind for a hope of something greater. They embarked on an adventure with God and they found peace.
We are living in the end of an age and emerging into a new age. The answers are the same but we are in an age of rediscovery. An age where we reason together, walk a path together, an age where we seek to live with Christ in word and deed. To do that we must know Jesus, know his ways and know the spirit of his thoughts. Jesus asked Simon who loves God more? And Simon answered correctly by saying the one forgiven of the greater debt. But both were forgiven, both were brought into a relationship with the Father that was unblemished, both have a love for God because he has given them grace. What do we do with that knowledge? Do we hoard the grace loving only those that conform to our ideas or do we instead walk with them encouraging them down that path to God?
To some my words may seem a bit vague, maybe not very theologically sound, but it is compassion and love that are the seeds of faith. Those are the only true, distilled, simplest, and to the point laws of God. Love God with everything we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. Honoring all people as children of God, encouraging them to walk that path with us. I like most people of my generation enjoy the journey. I love to drive and observe the landscape passing around me. Yes, at times I may question things, I question only because it is part of the journey, we cannot truly know without learning and learning comes from asking questions and finding the answers. Things excite me as well. Things like this passage, because often I find myself on the wrong side of the story. Often I am the one sitting in judgment, instead of the one weeping at the feet of Jesus. That causes me to ask more questions. What does it mean to be a follower of Christ? What does it mean to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and to live the love of Christ with others? You see that is part of the journey we all must walk with Christ. The journey He takes me on is different then yours, how He moves me from one point to another is different but the story is the same. I started as the sinner weeping at the feet of Jesus and He says to me, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” He does not leave us there, He is also calling us to come follow Him and to come and see where He is living today.
As we enter this time of open worship, the time we can commune with each other and God as a community of Friends. Let us reflect on that journey that brought us to Jesus’ feet, let us remember those people instrumental in that walk, and look forward in Christ to where he is leading us.