Summit Presbyterian Church June 17, 2007
“Simon says....” Delivered by Jim Eby Luke 7:36-8:3
Jesus is in trouble, again. This time with one of the good people, someone who worked to keep the 10 commandments, someone who contributed to his synagogue and prayed regularly. Someone who read and discussed the Bible with other men in order to know more about God. Simon was a Pharisee, all four of the Gospels tell us.
And the other major person in this account? A nameless woman. But the fact that she is nameless comes as no surprise, in that day, in that culture. Very few women=s names were recorded. That is what makes the very last verses we read so important when Mary, called Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Chuza and Suzanna are named as some of the women who provided the funds for Jesus to be able to do his ministry.
But this particular woman does not have the honor of the other women. We don=t know much about her. She was a sinner, and we know she did whatever she did that was sinful in the city of Nain, and we know that Simon knew her. And that=s about all we know of her background.
But something happened to her. Something touched her and changed her life. None of the gospels tell us what transpired. All we have is her response, which is filled with significance.
Perhaps she had heard Jesus preach in the synagogue there at Nain, where she and Simon lived, on opposite sides of the track. Maybe, as Jesus shared God=s love with powerful words from scripture, the Sprit of God overwhelmed her as she realized those words were for her. Words that liberated and freed her to become the person God intended instead of the person she had chosen to be.
Whatever happened, it touched and changed her. Something had lifted her guilt and the pain and the separation that came with sin, something had helped her understand that she really was forgiven, she really was loved, just as she was. And as a result, she had to give thanks to the one who had revealed the grace of God that is poured out for us all. And so she came, filled with tears of thanksgiving. She came with her hair, the one possession a Jewish woman owned outright, and she came with a costly perfume. And what she did startled everyone who had gathered for the party. Some had come because they were invited guests, and they reclined to eat around a U-shaped table, so their feet faced outward. Some had been able to squeeze into the room and were standing against the wall, watching and listening intently. Others simply wandered into the courtyard in an attempt to be able to have repeated to them the words that were exchanged in the room and then were passed from one to another to another until everyone knew what was happening inside.
Regardless of who they were, they were all shocked as they watched the woman who had been a sinner slip into the room and move quietly to the foot of the dining couch where Jesus lay on his left side, with his head toward the centrally located food table.
For as they watched, she began to cry, overcome with joy, or was it pain at the humiliation that was being heaped upon the one who had helped her know the amazing grace of God at work in her life, amazing grace that saved a wretch like her.
Joy or pain, or both, some emotion caused tears to flow in such profusion that they cleansed Jesus= feet.
Foot washing is not terribly socially significant for us, but it is in the Near East. Feet and shoes are dirty, shameful things. You remember that Moses was commanded to take off his shoes as he approached the burning bust, for his dirty shoes were not to walk on hallowed ground. One of the ways you welcomed guests into your home in the days of Simon was to call your servant and have the servant wash your visitor=s feet. It was refreshing, and showed hospitality to the guest. If you did not provide for the foot washing, you at least gave the visitor a bowl of water to wash hands and face as a sign of your welcome.
The woman provided, out of her resources, for the washing of the feet of Jesus, and then she dried them. With her hair. The gathered crowd must have gasped as she let down her hair to dry the feet which had been bathed by her tears. That was an intimate gesture that a peasant woman is expected to enact only in the presence of her husband. The Talmud indicates a woman can be divorced for letting down her hair in the presence of a man other than her husband. In today=s Islamic world, male hairdressers are forbidden to work on women=s hair for the same reasons. There must have been an electric shock that went through the room as this woman, who had been overwhelmed by the good news of God=s love for sinners, offered this gracious response to Jesus.
And then she kissed those feet and anointed them with perfume. It was customary to greet a nobleman by washing his feet, kissing his hand, (you only kiss an equal on the cheek, all others who are more important than you are greeted by kissing their hand), and then the nobleman would be anointed on the head, with a perfumed oil that would take away the smell of perspiration and the grime of travel.
The woman, of course did not presume to anoint Jesus= head. She was a woman, and she had been a sinner. But she could, as a servant, anoint his feet and thereby show honor to the one who had changed her life.
And as we see what the woman did in such dramatic fashion, we move to the second act of the drama. Simon says....to himself, AIf this were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.@
We discover what the woman also knew. Jesus has been on trial by Simon. Simon has been very calculating in what he has done.
Simon invited Jesus to be his guest. And when he arrived, Simon snubbed Jesus in the presence of the whole gathered community. He did that at the door.
We have a ritual as we greet guests who come to our homes. We open the door, and hold out our hand to greet them. It=s as if we were pulling them through the door and into the shelter of our homes as we do that. We invite them in, and if it=s winter time, we take their coat and hat and invite them to go into the living room and make themselves comfortable. And we serve snacks until dinner is ready, with something to drink if they are thirsty.
The foot washing, the kiss of greeting, the anointing with perfume, those were all part of the ritual in Jesus= day. And they were all omitted. But not by accident. Jesus was the honored guest, the traveling rabbi, and it was as if, when the door-bell rang, Simon went to the door and opened it and seeing Jesus, Simon says, AOh, it=s you.@, and turned and walked back into the living room to talk with the other guests, leaving Jesus to open the screen door and let himself in, following Simon as would a servant who follows his master, his superior.
But things didn=t go as Simon had planned. His calculated snub of Jesus was thwarted by the woman. His deliberate refusal to offer the expected hospitality triggered an unprecedented act of devotion. A sensitive man could only humbly apologize to the guest and thank the woman for having compensated for his rudeness. But that is not what Simon did.
Instead, to himself, Simon says, AOh well, this Jesus is not very important after all. He let that sinner woman touch him. He allowed her to show intimacy that should only be expressed between a husband and wife.@ Simon placed Jesus on trial that day and decided Jesus wasn=t the one others thought he might be.
But Jesus will not give up on Simon. And the gathered crowd must have listened intently as Jesus told the parable and asked who most felt forgiveness. Caught in the trap he saw coming, Simon says, AI suppose, the one to whom he freely forgave the more@. And Jesus said to him, AYou have judged rightly.@
And then Jesus turned to the woman and spoke to Simon.
How magnificent! The speech is addressed to Simon, but it is spoken facing the woman. And it becomes a speech in praise of her kindness and worth. If Jesus were facing Simon, we would imagine a tone of harsh accusations: AYou, who failed in all of these duties of foot washing and kissing and greeting.@ But delivered facing the woman, it takes on a tone of gentleness and gratitude, expressed to a daring woman in desperate need of a kind word. The entire speech concludes with a climax addressed to her, in which she is reminded that her sins have been forgiven: AIn consequence, I say to you, her sins which are many, have been forgiven, therefore, she, loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.@ And to the woman, Jesus says AYour sins have been forgiven.@
Notice that Jesus did not say that because of her actions at the meal table he was forgiving her sins. Instead, Jesus was observing that he recognized something that God had already done, something that she was just now claiming as her own. The woman knew her forgiveness, and that knowledge caused her to act the way she did. It was out of joy and thanksgiving that she willingly took on the role of the servant. Jesus simply announces what God has done and confirms that action to the woman. And then, with a benediction, Jesus sends her away from those who have despised her.
And Jesus turns back to Simon. What will Simon do? Will he repent of his hardness of heart? Will he allow the Spirit to invade his life and begins that process of reconciliation that brings peace and wholeness, that brings the possibility of new relationships? Or will his hostility and opposition harden? Will he be one of those on Friday noon who shout: ACrucify him, crucify him!@
I remember at one of the church picnics of which I was a part, I watched one leader thoroughly enjoy leading the young people in the game of ASimon says....@, the game in which you do everything that the leader tells you to do as long as it is preceded with the words, ASimon says....@ The leader tries to trick individuals into doing things that Simon hasn=t said, and if you follow the leader in doing those things, you are out.
As you work on living this passage out in you life this week, I want you to change the rules. For in this passage, Simon says....@If Jesus were a prophet....@, Simon says.... AOh, it=s you....@, Simon says....@Oh well, this Jesus is not very important after all.@
Don=t listen to those words as you look for direction. Instead, listen for the words: Jesus says AYour sins have been forgiven.@
Live in that reality this week, be a conduit through whom others can experience the amazing grace that saves a wretch like you and me.
God, you love us in spite of ourselves, but also because of ourselves. We pray that you will open our ears to hear you say again and again to us, Jesus says AYour sins have been forgiven.@ And then use us so we are the windows through which your light and grace shine for others. In the name of our Savior we ask it. Amen.