In today’s text we hear the gospel. Seems like an obvious thing to say but often times we read the scriptures and we find morality lessons or life principles that we try to apply to our lives. The Bible as self-help book is a popular idea with many people. God has given us a manual for living. But today we have the gospel plan and simple.
Jesus is doing his missional thing. He is invited to dinner at someone’s house and Jesus accepts. This is the essence of evangelistic outreach. When invited to a party, go as a representative of the kingdom of God. As you go make disciples is the last order Jesus gave us. His invite is to follow him. We watch Jesus going into everyday situations and once there he speaks the words of the kingdom.
Jesus doesn’t go alone; this is a teaching moment for his him. We are told the disciples are with him and Jesus has the opportunity to demonstrate to them the ways of the kingdom. We learn by copying those to go before us.
Somehow a woman gets into this scene. She is a woman of the city, a sinner. Could she be a prostitute? She found out Jesus was going to be at the Pharisees house so she got a very expensive flask of alabaster ointment to pour on him.
So we have the visiting Rabbi at the home of a Pharisee along with his disciples. In comes an undesirable woman who takes a seat at Jesus feet. To say there was tension in the room is to put it mildly. Tension is the one thing we don’t like. I think that is why we like the idea of the Bible as a self-help book rather than the word of God to us.
When we view the Bible as a self-help book the scenario goes something like this. I have problem. God comes along and gives me some advice, some direction for my life. I try to apply it as best I can and life goes on. Self-help is guidance; it doesn’t challenge my lifestyle. It adds correction. After all we all need some directions right.
When we view the Bible as a moral guide again it becomes a signpost on how too live my life but doesn’t really challenge me to rethink my presuppositions. The Bible is viewed as setting boundaries for right and wrong, good and evil. It shows me how to live but never touches my understanding of my fallen nature.
Whether a self-help book or a moral guide the tension is removed. The Bible becomes a part of this life. It is a tool to bring some correction but there is no real disruption. Life is good it just needs to be tweeked a bit to keep it on the right path. Values are not challenged, and one’s view of the world remains basically the same. This is the role of folk religion. A nod is given to God, there are some directives given, but basically we are told we are on the right path and life is good.
But in today’s story we have something else taking place. In this routine dinner party worlds are being shaken, and the foundation of peoples understanding of life are being pulled form underneath them. This is what the gospel does. It doesn’t offer us some advice for living nor does it show us right from wrong, what it does is flip everything on us and leaves us coming up short with only God to recue us from our hopelessness. We are shown that nothing we do or understand outside of the kingdom of God is of any value in guiding our lives.
The real problem begins when the woman, who had no business being there is so overcome with a sense of shame and forgiveness that she begins to weep and her tears fall on Jesus’ feet. She wipes the tears with her hair and anoints Jesus’ feet with the oil. Woman in the room, disturbing the rabbi and touching a man not her husband; this is a scandal and this is tension.
The Pharisee sees what is going on and has a clash within him self. This scene for him is a problem no mater how you look at it. This unclean woman should not be at this party. Who let her in? How did she get in here? No woman should be touching any man who is not her husband. An unclean woman should be touching no one. And no woman should be interrupting a rabbi. The tension is high; the internal conflict for the Pharisee is raging in his head. He asks himself who is this man Jesus? If he is the holy man he claims to be he would know who is touching him and put an end to it.
Jesus responds with a story. Two men are in debt to a moneylender. One owes a lot of money and the other a little. Neither could make good on their loans and approach the lender and both are forgive of their debt. Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee, “Which of the two would be most grateful.” Simon rightfully says the one forgive the biggest debt. Jesus agrees.
Jesus then turns up the heat. He looks at the woman and drives home his point. Simon you are worried about this woman because she is acting contrary to what your religion allows. She came into a room full of men. She touched me and she disrupted our gathering. On top of that she has lead a less then stellar life. From a socio-religious perspective this is all wrong and your sensibilities are hurt. And since I am a visiting rabbi I should know better shouldn’t I. To this reasoning Simon would agree.
This is not about religious mores. This story is about a relationship between Jesus and a repentant sinner. This is a redemption story. This story is a declaration of the gospel.
Jesus asks Simon to look at his own world. “Simon when I entered your house you gave me no water to wash my feet;” a common courtesy that is offered to any guest but especially to an honored one. “Simon you did no greet me with a kiss;” again the natural greeting for an honored guest. “Simon you did not anoint my head with oil to remove the smell of the road.” The woman on the other hand washed Jesus feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed his feet and anointed them with expensive oil.
Jesus then drives home his point, “Therefore I tell you, her sins which are many, are forgiven—for she loves much.” Simon she has done what she did because she is sorry for her sins. You have done what you did because you are not.
The woman wasn’t forgiven because she loved Jesus. She loved Jesus because she was forgiven. Simon thought Jesus an interesting character he wanted to know on some level. What intellectual perspective did Jesus bring to the table? The woman on the other hand was riddled with grief and shame. She sought forgiveness for her sins.
When you take the position of a Simon two things happen. You think more highly of yourself than you should and you look down at others who you think you are better than. Our churches are filled with the self-righteous; people who somehow think they have made. This morning is reality check time. How do you view others around you? Do you pass judgment on them based on the world’s view of success; the poor, immigrants, those below you on the job. How about members of another church body, do they live up to your standard of holiness? Simon was a good man, but good men don’t get to heaven. He was interested in meeting Jesus but not worshiping at his feet. Simon was willing to have Jesus as a dinner guest but not as the Lord of his life.
The woman on the other hand had no pride. She was willing to put her reputation on the line to get to Jesus. She was also willing to spend her money on Jesus. I am sure she was not a wealthy woman but she purchased expensive oil to anoint Jesus feet. Where does you money go? Do you value the kingdom of God first and foremost? This is an uncomfortable topic. It was a problem for Judas and the disciples when another woman anointed Jesus for his burial and they said the money should have been used for other things. Where you spend your money reveals your heart. If you don’t regularly give to the work of the church you are saying that the body of Christ is not as important as other things in your life. This woman like the widow who give all she had at the temple treasury were saying in effect, God was first in their lives.
This story is the Gospel. Unmerited favor is poured out on a humble sinner who was humbled before the Lord and in response gave her all. While on the other side the self-righteous, good, religious man was offended by Jesus actions even though he thought Jesus worthy to be invited into his house.
The Gospel either humbles and saves or offends. Where do you stand this morning in relationship to the Gospel?