June 12, 2016
Jesus was invited to a dinner party. Not just any dinner party, one thrown by a Pharisee. Now we know the reputation of the Pharisees and Jesus; they just didn't see eye to eye. We don't really know why this Pharisee invited Jesus to his party. Possibly because he was truly interested in the message Jesus was teaching and wanted to learn more about him. Possibly. But it seems unlikely because we discover in the course of the story that the Pharisee didn't treat Jesus with particular respect. Jesus himself points it out... “ I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet.... You gave me no kiss... you did not anoint my head with oil...” all things a host would see to for an honored guest.
She was very disappointed and stepped out back to consider her possibilities. She noticed one of the men doing some spectacular stunts; somersaults, cartwheels, swinging from tree branches. She approached his partner and asked if he'd thought his friend would do his act for her party. She offered $100 if he would. Well, the man said he'd ask and yelled at his friend, “Hey Willie, for $100 would you be willing to chop off another toe?”
There was no entertainment at the Pharisee's party. But the guests' attention was attracted to a woman who was a party crasher. Uninvited, she was making a spectacle of herself... “(she) brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind Jesus 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.” Oh yeah, Luke is careful to point out, she was a sinner. Now while this wasn't the hired entertainment, it certainly got the attention of the guests and of the host as well. And the host wasn't pleased. But he let the scene play out, perhaps to catch Jesus in an unfavorable light. I've already noted that the host didn't treat Jesus with much courtesy. So why did he invite Jesus and then disrespect him? I like what Pat Cook suggests about this Pharisee, “Well, it seems that maybe he was just trying to find an excuse to dismiss Jesus. Maybe he was looking for some reason that he did not have to listen to what Jesus was saying. Still the same today. If a person can find hypocrites, then they think that (they can) just throw out what the hypocrite is saying.” So Simon the Pharisee uses the fact that Jesus allowed this woman to minister to him to dismiss Jesus. IF Jesus were a prophet, he would know this woman was a sinner. And IF Jesus knew she were a sinner, he would have sent her away. Since this didn't happen, he obviously didn’t know her character, didn't know she was a sinner, isn't a prophet of God...so I can reject his message, his ministry, his person.
And we do some of that today. Again from Pastor Cook. “We say, 'Well, obviously, Jesus would not go to dances or Jesus would not go to the liquor store or Jesus would not be out and around where sinners are or Jesus would not vote Liberal or Jesus would not vote at all or Jesus would hate gays or Jesus would be against gay marriage or Jesus would leave liberal churches or…'” Fill in the blank. Like Simon, we decide we know what Jesus should do or think. And while Jesus did stand up for and against certain things that people do, he doesn't reject people who come to him for help. Roman, Samaritan, Gentile, demon-possessed, sinners...Jesus always cared for the people who sought him out. So we must be careful to not reject people out of hand...we don't really know if Jesus would vote democrat or republican, liberal or conservative. It is so easy to take our beliefs, our stands on politics or social issues or private piety and then convince ourselves that that is God's belief as well. That is the way the Pharisees thought and Jesus had his harshest words for those self-righteous Pharisees. But if I'm honest, I must admit I do this with Jesus as well. I take the characteristics of Jesus found in scripture then I pick and choose those aspects that best fit my own beliefs and make them the most important part of the teachings of Jesus. You who have listened to me preach for years know that I focus heavily on grace, amazing grace, grace that forgives us while we are still lost in our sin. I tend to put much less emphasis on Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats in the final judgment; less focus on warnings of hypocrisy; and I don't like to hear or talk about the weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are shut out. I have complete confidence in the power and grace of Jesus Christ. But like the Pharisee in today's story, I am quick to assume that Jesus would agree with me if he knew what I knew. We all need to humbly come to the scriptures and learn all aspects of our Lord.
I got side tracked a bit there, I want to move on to the woman in the story and see what lessons we can learn from her example. As I said, Luke was quick to point out she was a sinner, I would assume all at the table knew her reputation; including Jesus. Including the woman herself. And Jesus told a simple parable, the story of the forgiving of debts and the response of the debtors. “Now which of them will love him more?" And Simon grudgingly gives the obvious answer, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." In the parable, both were forgiven. At the dinner party, we only read of the woman being forgiven. The one with the more sins was the one that gets forgiveness. Simon lived an outwardly righteous life; you had to to be a Pharisee. But he wasn't perfect; he too needed forgiveness. But he didn't recognize that need.
And he didn't recognize his Savior. The woman did. She knew her sin and was seeking the one who could change her life, the Lord and Savior. Her life, from what we read here, was a sinful life. She probably wasn't a regular attendee at synagogue. Her actions were not in line with the religious people who looked upon her in judgment; but her heart was loving. She loved Jesus even before he offered her words of forgiveness. This sinner had a relationship with Jesus the self-righteous one could not have. Because she recognized her need and Simon didn't.
So where does that leave us. Simon was self righteous and judgmental; the woman a sinner with a good heart. We don't want to be like Simon...and we don't want to be sinner like the woman. But we do want to be like the woman in the sense that she loved Jesus. She demonstrated her love by her presence and her worship... and that love outweighed her sin. And we too, can demonstrate our love for Jesus in our worship. You could say this story is about how and why we worship Jesus. We worship because we are a forgiven people; and it doesn't matter which of us is forgiven most. What matters is that we understand that we are sinful and need the Savior's forgiveness. We all do. That woman at the dinner party loved Jesus much because she was forgiven much. She worshiped her Lord out of that love. That's what worship is: sinful people gathered to show our love for our Lord. Jesus never pretended the woman wasn't a sinner. He just loved and forgave her. We don't gather as a church because we are not sinners, we gather because we are sinners forgiven by a loving God. We don't gather because we are perfect. And too often that is the picture the world has of the church-- “They are all such goody-goody's, they won't let people like us in.” But we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And when we realize what the Lord has done for us, that is when true worship happens.
See, worship isn't about you coming here and being made happy or joyful or to feel better. Hopefully, those things happen. We are reminded today that worship is about Jesus, not about me, not about you. That woman was preoccupied with Jesus—that should be us. She didn't care how many hypocrites were there, she cared about Jesus. She didn't care what the others thought about her, she cared what Jesus thought. And Jesus loved her and forgave her. And that's where our hearts should be as well...focused on Jesus. And her gifts...she didn't sit at the feet of Jesus to get something from him. She was there to give to him out of love. That's worship. When we gather for worship, there should be one focus—loving Jesus. We sing the hymns...and love Jesus. We say the prayers...and honor the Lord. We read the Word and learn to love Jesus more.
It can be hard to come to worship. There can be judgmental looks or comments. We are here with fellow sinful human beings who can be judgmental. It was hard for that woman to go to that party where she knew she would be judged. But she went. She wasn't invited, but she went because Jesus was there. She could have been kicked out, but she had gifts to give to her Lord. She wasn't wanted there, but she went to worship Jesus.
There can be days when we don't feel very welcomed to worship. As loving a congregation as we can be, we can fail to overlook the ones who do things differently. We welcome each other anyways because it is not our job to decide who is worthy of forgiveness. That can be our lesson from Simon.
We have a great, loving, grace-filled Savior; be preoccupied with him alone as we worship and him your love and thanksgiving. That is our lesson from the sinful woman. Remember you have been forgiven in and through Christ. Remember all his goodness to you. And worship him. Amen.
Hymn: Just As I Am, Without One Plea 370 PH