“Do You See This Woman?”
Pentecost +3, 12 June 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
Zion West Walworth 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.
The obvious is what is recognized.
It is what the senses can perceive.
Our eyes see white as white and black as black.
Our ears hear the amplitude and frequency of sound waves.
Our nose and tongue can smell or taste parts per million.
Our skin can feel the difference between a pinch or a pat.
But the world is filled with much more than the merely obvious
Because each of our brains are influenced by
Previous experience, culture, values, and beliefs.
What I might interpret as an overly aggressive tone of voice,
You might perceive as assertive.
What I might believe is obvious,
You might need time to think it through.
Our gospel lesson for this morning has at its surface
Seemingly obvious facts,
But we know, we can feel, that just under the surface
There are whole other stories working.
There are gaps that need filled in.
A kind Biblical professor taught me long ago
To pay attention whenever the narrative
Leaves a gap.
The tendency is to fill the gap with our assumptions,
Based on our cultural experience.
And you know what is said about assumptions.
Instead of filling in the gaps in the story with assumptions,
Stop, breath, pray.
Then let the narrative of Jesus speak.
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him.
This implies a pre-existing relationship.
There is a gap here.
We don’t know what that pre-existing relationship looked like.
“Come, let’s have lunch at my house” gives us a clue.
Jesus probably knew him
Well enough to know where he lived;
Even, perhaps, Jesus may have been to Simon’s home sometime before.
It also gives us a hint that the Pharisee had an agenda.
Simon the Pharisee was searching,
He wanted something from Jesus.
It is still too early for the crucifixion conspiracy plot to thicken.
Additional hints are forthcoming when the Simon says to himself,
“If this man were a prophet, …”
He’d be wise, insightful, maybe even able to foretell the future!
This is how I see this adding up: Is Jesus a prophet? Or more?
Let’s invite him to lunch and find out.
In fact, this Pharisee is so focused on his agenda,
He doesn’t even extend to Jesus
The basics of expected hospitality,
His own social indiscretion, as it were.
Here is another less than obvious, but important aspect to consider.
Context is everything.
Pharisees were lay people obsessed with cleanliness.
As a result,
Pharisees were the ones given responsibility
For judging people “clean” or “unclean.”
They judged human character
According to the strict laws of Moses as found in the Torah,
And according to their background, education, experience, beliefs and values.
From Sunday through Thursday,
They observed people’s behaviors in the village square ,
Friday evening and Saturday during the day before services
They would stand outside the synagogue or temple bathing pools,
And judge people as they approached.
They’d Judge who was clean … they get a pass,
And those who were unclean … they had to
Pay the tax,
Remove their clothing, and
Submerge completely in the ceremonial pools
Before entering for worship.
They were careful observers and harsh judges of human character.
In the midst of the meal,
In walks a woman in the city,
Someone Luke identified as “a sinner,”
(go ahead, let your minds run wild).
She was certainly someone who would have been known
By Simon the Pharisee.
Certainly she had been previously judged harshly.
Just looking at her was cause for judgment.
There is another gap here.
She just walks in Simon’s house and takes her place at the feet of Jesus.
Did she know Simon previously?
Certainly she had been judged by him in the pasts,
But did she have such familiarity with him
That she could just walk into his house?
There is more here than meets the eye!
What brought her to Jesus?
Just because she was a sinner doesn’t mean she was dumb.
She, too, had an agenda with Jesus;
And she came prepared.
The most obvious conclusion that can be made
Is that Jesus also had a pre-existing relationship with this woman.
Here’s yet another gap.
Something happened previously between this woman and Jesus.
Their paths had crossed.
Something had happened
That caused this woman to seek Jesus out and respond proportionately.
Scholars suggest Jesus had already forgiven her.
“Your sins are forgiven,” was spoken in the past tense.
For the grace that she had already received,
She seeks out Jesus,
Returns to him,
And plans to respond with loving thankfulness.
She comes prepared … with an alabaster jar of ointment …
She is moved by emotions
And begins to cry.
She cleans Jesus’ feet with her tears.
Cleaning a guest’s feet was the first expected act of hospitality.
Taking it one step further,
She anoints his feet with perfume laden ointment.
One can almost imagine
The Pharisee biting his lower lip,
Thinking to himself, “if he only knew who she was …”
Not having the courage to speak his objection out loud.
His body language must have been screaming!
Jesus, with the heart and mind of our omniscient God,
Accurately zero’s in on the Pharisees’ objection.
He does so by teaching a parable.
In his parable either outcome
Results in the same essential truth:
Debt has been cancelled.
Big or little,
Sins are forgiven.
For the Pharisee to engage in the parable,
He would have to surrender his authority of judge and jury
And accept the premise that forgiveness, cleanliness, comes from beyond himself.
Indeed, forgiveness comes from God.
Score one point for Jesus.
But game, set, and match are on the line
And Jesus isn’t ready to let this one get away.
“Which of them loved him more?” Jesus asked,
“the one who cancelled the debt of fifty or five hundred denarii?”
“the one for whom he canceled the greater debt,” Simon answers.
“Beautiful!” the stage is set for Jesus’ subsequent tirade,
A rant that I’m not certain Simon deserved.
Here is another gap in the narrative:
What is it that sets Jesus off?
He compares Simon’s relatively minor sin of not extending hospitality to Jesus, to the extraordinary sin of this woman.
“I come into your house and you do not offer me common hospitality?”
“Even still, I let it slide. I eat with you.”
“You love me little,” Simon!
“Yet, this woman has exceeded every expectation of hospitality.”
“She washes my feet with her hair;
Sooths my feet with her kisses;
She anoints my feet with her perfume.”
“She loves me a lot,
Because so much more had been forgiven.”
Jesus turns to her
And confers upon her again,
“Your sins are forgiven.”
While the guests at the table grumbles amongst themselves,
Jesus goes for the game, set, and match:
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
All this is well and good
If the morning sermon was simply an academic exercise meant to stimulate the mind.
But the gospel is meant to move the soul;
To bring about changes in both our thoughts and our behaviors;
To draw us ever closer in our walk with Jesus.
The gospel provides to us this morning two invitations:
First, to be forgiven by placing ourselves in the shoes of the woman, and
Secondly, and perhaps more challenging for most of us,
To recognize the fact that
Simon the judgmental Pharisee is a character flaw in each of us.
First, place yourselves in the shoes of this woman.
Sin is sin, is sin.
It doesn’t respect quantity or quality.
“All are guilty under the law,” the apostle Paul rightly observes.
Therefore, every single one of us
Has a past that is equal to this sinful woman.
Each of us should be able to identify with her.
Perhaps it was something we did in our youth, or as recent as this morning.
Perhaps it was intentional or unintentional.
Perhaps it was meant to gratify the self, or punish another.
Sin is what separates us from the will of God.
Sin is what tears down and destroys
That which God has created and named as good.
Are not each of us encountered by Christ,
Brought to his feet,
And, in absolute humility and raw emotion,
Called to make our confession with loving gratitude,
With the hopes of forgiveness and restoration?
Great is our sin, and equally so, great is God’s forgiveness.
Restoration into the community of God’s kingdom,
Salvation from death, into life.
Come with me to the feet of Jesus with confession.
By his forgiveness,
May we be healed,
And may we return his gift with our thanksgiving.
Secondly, allow this gospel stretch one’s faith.
Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?”
He sees her
And assumes he knows her.
Can you put yourself into the shoes of Simon the Pharisee?
I know I can.
We look at people all the time
And draw assumptions about their life and character
Based on how they look or carry themselves.
Problem is: assumptions are often wrong.
To complicate everything,
Our tendency is to compare our assumptions of others
With our own world experience.
We expect people to behave the way
We believe we should behave.
If I don’t like body piercings or tattoos,
Then I assume others should not have body piercings or tattoos, either.
I can’t speak for you, but
I live in a world of privilege,
Where I think I know and practice moral superiority;
Where I look down with disdain upon
What I have come to believe
Are obviously sinful actions of others.
I may not speak it aloud in public;
But I have those thoughts,
Perhaps like the rest of you,
“Just what is that tramp thinking?” or
“He should be in jail for his outrageous behavior!”
And, sadly so, my thoughts negatively influence my behavior,
How I treat people, even though I should know better.
Being a baptized Christian doesn’t give anyone the right to judge others.
Being a lifelong Christian doesn’t allow anyone
To displace the authority of the Lord
As the single entity
Entrusted with executing judgment.
Even ordination doesn’t extend this right,
Or steal it away from God.
As in Jesus’ rebuke of Simon the Pharisee,
Great is our condemnation from God above,
If we never come down from our moral high-horse,
To join the ranks of humanity.
Let’s all humble ourselves,
Dismount the horse,
And leave the judgment of others up to God.
We never hear from Simon the Pharisee again.
With a few hints from the Gospel author,
We might be able to draw some conclusions about the future of this forgiven woman.
The rest of the story that is so often neglected in the life and ministry of Jesus
Is summed up in the concluding paragraph.
Jesus was not only surrounded by a circle of male disciples,
But he was also surrounded by a circle of women, too;
Women who provided for them out of their resources;
Women who were thankful, grateful, and filled with love;
Women who had been forgiven.
I’d like to believe this woman
Followed Jesus the rest of her days
She had already been saved.
She now went with peace and made her home with him.
This same outcome can be true in our lives, too.
Like Simon the Pharisee, we can go away.
Or, if we see the sin within us, like this woman,
We are welcome to find forgiveness and salvation at the feet of Jesus,
And choose to follow him the rest of our days, too.
Leave judgment up to God.
Humble the self with confession
And receive the forgiveness of our Lord.
Respond in kind with thanksgiving
And follow Jesus,
Bringing good news of the kingdom of God.