To be called Christian requires us to see God’s way...
even when it rubs us the wrong way or threatens our life.
The story written by Luke, recalls not a writer but a sinner, to which same idiom rings true. “If you want to find a sinner, just throw a rock at someone.”
It’s certainly easier to spot a sinner than it is to see a saint. Or as Jesus might say, “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own” (Mt. 7:3). Our perspective, our way of seeing things, is often far removed from Jesus. As such, the way we see things…and the way others see us…becomes skewed.
In the first Century, Jesus’ point of view ruffled a lot of feathers, especially to those loyal to the Roman Emperor. Not much has changed in two millennia, for Jesus continues to make us all more than uncomfortable. And he should. He forces us out of our comfort zone, and opens our eyes to see a new life, different than that of “the norm.”
Jesus’ words, his actions, his boldness and sensitivity threatens popular culture, upsets the status quo, and angers our earthly kingdom purposefully. He came to restore God’s kingdom, and does it by transforming our earthly ones. Let's face it, Jesus came to change the way we view others, and the way we see the world around us, which is to say through God’s eyes. So it’s no wonder people quiver with fear when he says, “Come follow me.”
But human beings don’t like change. It demands too much from us. Requires us to face things we may not want to face. Here is what we need to remember: To be called Christian requires us to see God’s way, and to follow God even when it rubs us the wrong way or threatens our life.
In the reading this morning, the Pharisee Simon seems to believe he and Jesus see eye-to-eye. The story implies there’s a cordial relationship between the two men. But in the nuances of the text we discover there is a current of tension stirring under the surface. And the air is thick with whispers from the crowds, and perhaps a bit of smugness in their judgment.
When Jesus takes his seat at the table, a woman who seems almost invisible, quietly kneels behind him and begins to wash him, as it was the custom in those days. Like many women in the gospel stories, she is nameless…but like every one of us, she is certainly not blameless. Yet, when her hand touches Jesus, something amazing happens. Instead of shaking with fear and trepidation, she begins to weep, sobbing enough tears to wash the Lord’s feet.
Jesus asks Simon, “Do you see this woman?” Simon sees her, perhaps as you and I might, …by her reputation. He doesn’t see what Jesus sees. After hearing a parable about forgiveness and debts, he and his other guest continue to cast their judgment, oblivious to the power of God sitting among them.
What the story doesn’t tell us is what the weeping woman sees when she approaches Jesus. What has shifted in her life that enables her to see Jesus in such a way that motivates this outpouring of love and thanksgiving?
Does she know the power of forgiveness, and is so overwhelmed with a sense of humility and gratitude, that she can’t help but weep tears of joy? Does she get the true meaning of God’s grace, or the value it has on her life as her shame washes away like the dirt on Jesus’ feet? I would say a resounding, “Yes.” She sees God’s power made manifest before her very eyes.
This nameless woman’s story, and the nameless sins she has committed, teach us to see how our status and standing in society, be it religious, political, or social, are irrelevant when it comes to God’s love being poured out upon us.
Paul writes in Romans, “We all fall short of the glory of God.” Meaning not one of us is above the other, we are all one people… under the power of one true God. And yet, for some reason, we continue to draw boundary lines between us. We set ourselves against one another. We whisper unkind things behind each other’s backs. We push people to the margins. We bully them and shame them until we get our way. Too often, we don’t see the hurt these actions cause others, or perhaps we do and we just don’t care.
This story reminds us that we can’t hide from our sin. But we can run to forgiveness, by running to Jesus. And not simply running to him, but walking with him towards a new and redeemed life.
Just as Jesus knows Simon’s thoughts, and guilt, he also knows the nameless woman’s and ours as well. He knows our intensions and will judge accordingly. But when Jesus tells us to open our eyes, he isn’t telling us to see a sinner. Instead he teaches us to look for grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love. This, of course, requires us to step out of our comfort zones and habits, if we wish to be truly transformed; living more like Jesus, and less like…well, human beings.
When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven…go in peace,” He is offering us more than a clean slate. He is offering us the way to move away from sin, and become something new.
But when we willingly choose to return to the same old ways, fanning the flames of gossip or untruths, hurting others with rumors or acts of violence- it is as if we are turning from the face of God and saying, “I am washed clean, and will be again and again, so what’s the big deal?” What does this attitude say to God, or to those watching us from the periphery?
As St. Augustine points out, “We cannot accept a gift when our hands remain full.” We can’t accept God’s forgiveness if our heart is filled with bitter jealousy, anger, resentment, and an unwillingness to be transformed.
This nameless woman teaches us that a truly repentant heart comes to God, with empty hands and a desire to be made new. Taking for granted God’s gift of love and forgiveness, whether we know it or not, is a far greater sin that you might imagine. It devalues God’s love and cheapens his grace. We can’t split our loyalty to God, nor can we divide God’s love as we see fit.
So ask yourself these questions, “How many times must I be forgiven before I shift my way of being?” “How many times must the Lord prove to me that I am, in fact, better than I tend to behave?” “How many times will it take for me to realize the hurt I cause others is, in fact, the same pain I cause Jesus?”
We are not isolated individuals, but members of God’s family, members of a living and conscious body of Christ. When one of us hurts, we all feel it. My charge to you is to seek the Kingdom of God by seeing Jesus in the face of others. Treat one another as if your actions are directed towards God.
When we look into the eyes of another human being and see Jesus, we begin to transform this earthly kingdom into God’s kingdom. When we decide to serve the God that loves us by treating all his beloved children with love and respect, then we can truly rejoice and begin to share joy with God and one another. Remember our acronym for Joy? Jesus first, others second, and you last.
When we become one with the One who forgives us and lifts the burden of shame and rejection, gives us value and self-worth in spite of how unworthy others have made us feel, then we receive peace. We become a valuable part of God’s shalom.
If you ask me, this is real freedom, freedom that no symbol or nation can give us. This is the real gift of a loving God, who frees us from all sin, shame, guilt, jealousy, anger, malice and the like.
Let us all take these words home today. “A heart that is bound by sin withers and dies, but the love of a forgiving God lifts us to a height beyond our greatest dreams and causes us to weep and sing with great joy.” (Bartlett 2010)
Come, let us weep with joy and embrace the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
(NRSV), Bible. Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 7:5 (MSG).
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word, Year C, volume 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010. Quote by M. Jan Holton.
Kim-Kort, Mihee. "Reflections on the Lectionary." Christian Century, May 2016: 21.