Summit Presbyterian Church
June 16, 2013
Showing the Love
The title that comes before this passage in my Bible (and all those titles are put in by editors, they're not in the scripture itself) says, "A Sinful Woman Forgiven." That's true, and a perfectly fine title, but another one could be, "A Profile in Courage." Think about what she did! Everyone knows she's a "sinner" -- which could mean she's a prostitute, or it could mean she's transgressed in some other public way. She's heard that Jesus is eating at the house of Simon, a Pharisee, a respected and devout member of the community. She wouldn't expect to be welcomed at that house, but she goes anyway and enters uninvited. She has with her an alabaster jar of ointment -- alabaster jars of ointment were expensive, so she may have gotten it at some sacrifice. And she stands at the feet of Jesus (who would have been reclining next to the table, she wouldn't have crawled underneath). Now customs and rules about bodily etiquette were different in first century Palestine, especially when it came to feet. (You touched them more!) But even for first century Palestine what she did next was weird. She started weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, rubbing his feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with ointment. She was definitely crossing boundaries and being inappropriate. The dinner guests must have been shaking their head, wondering if she had totally lost it. But apparently she didn't care. She cared about showing Jesus her love. A love that came from knowing Jesus loved her, that she was forgiven for whatever she had done. A love that came from knowing she was accepted -- no longer defined only as a "sinner." A love she couldn't contain or control -- she probably didn't intend to weep at his feet. A great love, in the words of Jesus. A love that gave her great courage. A love that was affirmed when Jesus told her to go in peace. A love that Simon didn't seem to notice.
For Simon, too, was focused on Jesus. But Simon was evaluating him. Simon thought that by letting the woman touch him Jesus must not be a prophet. A prophet would know who she was - even if they had never met. A prophet would keep himself ritually clean, and wouldn't let such a woman touch him. Now, to give Simon credit he didn't shame the woman or throw her out. Simon addressed Jesus respectfully and may have even by convicted by what Jesus said. But Simon held back. He wasn't a sinner in any public or dramatic way. He offered Jesus appropriate - if not generous - hospitality. Simon was measured and careful and cautious and watching, wondering, I'm sure, what others were thinking. Possibly aware of his sin deep down but hiding it from God and himself. Keeping silent, like it says in the psalm, clinging to his position as a faithful student of the law, wasting away through his groaning, not able or willing to acknowledge the extent of his sin. And therefore not knowing the joy of forgiveness or the happiness of those whose transgression is forgiven, in whose spirit there is no deceit. And therefore not loving so much.
What would happen if we were more like that woman and less like Simon? Fully trusting in the love and forgiveness of God in Christ right now. That is there. For all of us. What would happen if we cared only about showing our love and our gratitude, and stopped worrying about what other people thought of us.
Our economy might take a nosedive. So much of our spending - even when we're not social climbers - comes out of insecurity, wanting to project a certain image to others and to ourselves.
We might all start acting a bit more unconventionally -- less anxious to please others and fit in.
We'd start caring more for one another -- in big ways and small, globally and locally. For that's what Jesus calls us to do. That's how we show our love for God.
And we'd know the peace and liberation that comes from truly believing we're forgiven and accepted. From laying down the burden of guilt for whatever we've done or been.
It's hard to fully trust in the grace of Christ. It's a life-long, prayerful journey. But this is the good news: when we do, as that brave woman shows us, we can stop caring so much about what other people think -- because the love of Christ is enough. When we trust in God's forgiveness, which knows no bounds - as that brave woman shows us - we can let go of our shame, and stop caring so much about what other people think. That doesn't mean we stop caring about other people -- that's one way we show our love. It doesn't mean we stop listening to other people, including things they may say about us that we need to hear -- because that's part of the caring, part of the loving and turning towards God. But when we can bring our guilt, and sin before God, and trusting the forgiveness of Christ, a burden is lifted. But we can be bolder. More courageous. More loving. Sitting - metaphorically - at the feet of our savior.