"The Scandal of Grace"
16 June 2013
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Gender plays a role in how we view the world.
Like it or hate it
men and women think differently.
We may draw the same conclusions
on some issues,
but we each get there by a different path.
We are fundamentally different
There are benefits and liabilities to our differences.
The wise are perceptive to the presence of the unknown
and the unknowable,
yet, the wise remain curious and always open to new revelations.
Even though I am no gender expert
“Teach me what I don’t know,” is a great approach
for navigating throughout life.
Up until the past one hundred years, or so,
most Biblical commentators, scholars, theologians, clergy, and church leaders were all men.
The Gospel - the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ -
had been interpreted through the eyes of men.
No two people think exactly alike,
even two people of the same gender.
However, some broad stroke, gender-biased interpretations
developed, were promoted, and were established
in Church doctrine and tradition.
The problem is,
assumptions were often wrong
and sometimes perpetuated violence among women.
No, I haven’t become Jane Fonda’s BFF,
I’m not the next guest on “The View”,
and I am not becoming a feminist.
I’m simply stating the obvious.
If I say a woman was a sinner,
what is it that men will often immediately conclude?
She is a prostitute? a whore? a street walker? a tramp? a lady of the night?
Many times the assumptive leap goes immediately to the sexual.
men would be,
I would be,
This does violence to all women;
perhaps not physical violence,
but it creates a cultural pattern of demeaning disrespect
and hostile marginalization.
Such it is with the unnamed “woman in the city, who was a sinner”
from our Gospel lesson for today.
Male tradition gave her a name and a reputation
that is completely undeserved and has no basis in the Biblical narrative,
either here, or in Matthew 26 or in Mark 14.
Male tradition named her Mary Magdalene and called her a prostitute.
Allow me to scandalized the tradition:
we don’t know who this woman was
And it’s time we take sex right out of the story.
We don’t know her sins.
Being a sinner simply means
she has broken one or more of God’s laws,
and in her day and age,
perhaps broke one or more of the ridiculously onerous Rabbinical laws
that were ancient Jewish dogmatic interpretations of God’s laws.
This woman was simply identified as a sinner;
which, conveniently, places her right in the same company of everyone in attendance here this morning.
Instead of us thinking of this woman
who shows great mercy and thanks to Jesus
as a woman from the outside
I’m suggesting we break down the walls of the faith community
and recognize the scandalous fact that
she is one of us.
Judge this sinful woman
at the risk of bringing judgment upon yourself.
Judgement and Perception are one of four polar dichotomies
identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator;
which is a psychological assessment of an individual’s personality.
Long ago, when I was in seminary, I was identified by Myers-Briggs
as being an I-N-F-P;
that is, I am biased towards being
Introverted, as opposed to being extraverted
Intuitive, as opposed to being sensing
Feeling, as opposed to thinking, and
Perceptive, as opposed to being judgmental
I report my personality profile
not so you can have inside knowledge to what makes me tick,
rather, to suggest
that each of us have some of each of these eight different traits.
We are all judgmental;
the question is,
where do we fall on the spectrum?
Are we a little bit judgmental?
Or are we a lot?
Simon, the Pharisee, in our Gospel lesson today
topped out the scale when it came to being judgmental.
It was his job,
to be the lay servant everyone met outside the synagogue or Temple
who declared attendees either clean or unclean.
Based on what he observed and witnessed in town the prior week,
based on the tongues he’d heard wagging,
based on how he profiled each person,
Simon, and other Pharisees, would stand on the front steps
and wave people towards the pools on the left
- pay the fee, wash and be made clean -
or a pass, on the right
- the invitation to bypass the fee and pools
and walk straight into the sanctuary
because you were already clean.
The system was ripe for corruption.
And corrupt it was.
Simon, the Pharisee, had a long history of judging this woman,
making her pay to play,
violently extracting from her
every ounce of human dignity she had remaining.
Which, in my humble mind,
makes the Gospel that much more scandalous
that she would come to the home of Simon the Pharisee
- Simon the cruel judge -
to wet the feet of Jesus with her tears and expensive perfume,
and dry them with her hair.
A bit of irony:
This narrative, as recorded in Matthew and Mark,
but omitted in today’s text from Luke
reports Simon was a leper.
He was disfigured.
He was unclean himself.
There is nothing like “the pot calling the kettle black.”
We all love the exposed hypocrite.
Apparently, so did Jesus.
Jesus was also pretty good at working miracles from a distance
and using those miracles to tell a story and make a point.
Simon thought to himself,
and Jesus read his mind from a distance,
“If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman
this is who is touching him
—that she is a sinner.”
Perhaps it was the smirk on his face that gave him away.
Jesus certainly knew the hardness of Simon’s heart
by both his reputation on the synagogue’s stairs
and by his cool reception given when Jesus first called.
“Who loves a creditor more,
one for whom little is forgiven,
one for whom a lot is forgiven.”
The answer is obvious and known even before Jesus speaks it.
Yet, this is Jesus’ brilliant way of exposing scandalous hypocrisy.
The one who served as a judge
was about to be judged.
“Go bathe,” Jesus flashed.
Simon is condemned for the little debt forgiven:
his feet weren’t washed,
he wasn’t greeted at the door with a kiss,
and Jesus wasn’t afforded the complimentary perfume bottle in his lav
which was the minimal expectation of a gracious host.
Footnote to self:
it shouldn’t be a lost point
that Simon was also forgiven for his lack of hospitality.
He was directed to the pools to wash and be made clean.
Yet, Jesus’ attention turns to this sinful woman,
“Your sins are forgiven.”
Second footnote to self:
This woman didn’t set out to be forgiven.
Her actions were not some works righteousness
quid pro quo.
She simply was washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair
and anointing them with perfume
as an act of faith
out of a sense of praise and thanksgiving
for the forgiveness already given to her.
O the outrage!
O the scandal!
Jesus forgives sins.
Jesus forgives the sins of others, even those who have sinned against us.
Jesus even forgives our sins.
For you see,
at the end of the day,
there is no difference between
clean and unclean.
There is no difference between sinners and Saints.
We might just as well tear down these Church walls
and invite everyone in:
because each of us has to admit
no one has sins greater than me.
The scandal of grace
that this Gospel passage so eloquently lifts up
all are sinful,
all break God’s laws,
all are forgiven,
the price is paid for each of us.
The only question that remains
is what will be our response?
Will we love little like sinful Simon?
Or, will we love a lot like the sinful unnamed woman?
A free meal consisting of cold shoulder
pales in comparison
to the loving tears of a grateful woman.
It is a shameful, losing proposition for anyone
to place themselves
on the front steps of the Church
and to cast judgment upon any and all who approach.
Being in the judgment business
drives people away from Christ
just as tragically,
exposes our own hypocrisy
for all the world to see.
The sooner we can humbly confess
that the Church,
- present company included -
is a community of sinners,
seeking one day to become Saints,
the sooner we can
experience the scandalized grace
that has already been won for us
by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross at Calvary.
We love to point fingers,
to blame others,
to weasel out from the crushing sin we have committed.
We find it hard to accept
the fact that the price for our sins has already been paid.
It is even harder to accept the fact
that the sins of others,
even those committed against us,
have also been forgiven by
our outrageously gracious God.
So, what is the point of hold on to what is already gone?
Accept it or not,
forgiveness is already given.
Accept it or not,
we are now living in a time of
a post-atonement pregnant pause,
that awkward silence
where God is left wondering
if we will draw close
like the sinful woman
and wash the feet of Jesus
with our tears and perfume
of thanks and praise.Amen.