St Anne’s Brown Edge
2 Samuel 11.26 - 12.10,13-15 Psalm 32 Galatians 2.15-21 Luke 7.36 - 8.3
One of my wife’s favourite TV programmes is ‘Come Dine With Me’ which I watch occasionally.
The antics of both hosts and guests are sometimes quite alarming and on one occasion a disgruntled hosts said, ‘I do not like you, get out of my house.’
It would be interesting to see what they would have made of the dinner party in the story we heard this morning from Luke’s Gospel.
There are three main characters; we are not told if Jesus’ disciples are also there as invited guests.
The three characters are Simon the Pharisee, the unnamed woman and Jesus.
There is as much we do not know about this story as the things we are told.
How is it that this woman knew of such love and forgiveness? Why is it that she searches out Jesus?
A caustic remark from Simon perhaps gives a hint about this woman and her ‘trade’ – though we are not told specifically, just Simon’s comment to ‘this kind of woman and a sinner.’
That is our first challenge when we read this story.
Remember that this Gospel was written at a time when the early church is expanding and Gentiles are becoming Christians.
Jews did not have table fellowship with Gentiles.
Paul addresses this situation in our passage from Galatians, accusing Peter of hypocrisy because he was happy to eat with Gentiles until a Jerusalem Church delegation turned up, sent by James. Then Peter began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentile believers.
Here Paul begins what will become a major theme of his many writings and letters, ‘justification by faith.’
'We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified.’
The Pharisees were not an elected group and at one level held no power. However, they saw themselves as the moral guardians, the keepers and the interpreters of the Torah.
As we note in the Gospel stories some were willing to give Jesus a fair hearing and others willing to seek him out and become friends and even followers.
Simon, a Pharisee wants to hear a little more from Jesus, to get to know him better and to see what Jesus has to say for himself and so invites him to a dinner party.
This is where the idea of the 21st Century Western style dinner party is not a helpful image.
We need to think more Eastern, a kind of chaos, people coming and going, lots of talk and excited chatter. Most probably just men with the woman and children kept separate. The diners stretched on couches to eat, giving the woman an opportunity to come up behind Jesus and begin to wash his feet.
However to help us grasp something of the social scandal of this woman who came and knelt at Jesus’ feet and let down her hair in public let us hold just for a moment a Western style dinner party. One of the guests, a woman, hitches up her long dress to her thighs and begins to clean the shoes of one of the male guest.
That might begin to get us closer to the scandal of what is going on here.
And Simon is straight in there with his prejudice, his pre-judging.
She is a sinner - how dare she do this in my home at my dinner table and Jesus, well, if he were a prophet he would know what kind of woman this is and have nothing to do with her.
He has seen the situation, judged it, categorized it and passed sentence.
Now we would not do that sort of thing would we.
Well, I know that in the ongoing debate about the Referendum I have heard some very caustic remarks, particularly about immigrants.
In the picture Luke paints, we see Jesus remaining calm throughout all of this.
Then he tells a story, a simple story about two people owing money to a moneylender.
One owes nearly two-year’s average wage and the other nearly two month’s average wage. Both are struggling to pay back and in an amazing act of generosity, the moneylender cancels both debts.
This story Jesus tells and the bigger story Luke is recording, works at many different levels.
At the social level, if Simon is concerned that ‘this woman’ has committed an offence by her behaviour, and that Jesus by not rebuffing her had also in effect acquiesced, then Jesus has some stern words for him.
Simon has failed to be a good host. If this was ‘Come Dine With Me’ he would have lost marks because he did not offer his guest every hospitality. It was a standard courtesy to have guests wash their feet, remember we are talking about sandals and dry and dusty paths.
...so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
It was also it was customary to greet people with a kiss.
1 Peter 5.14
Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
It was also customary to anoint someone’s head with oil as a mark of respect.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Here the table is prepared, and is Simon the Pharisee an enemy? We do not know that, although we do know that the Pharisees for the most part rejected Jesus and plotted to have him put to death.
Can you begin to see how this story Luke tells works at many different levels?
In our Gospel reading, we nudge over for some reason into Chapter 8 and the first three verses.
I am pleased we do so, because there is a very important phrase there that helps to set all of this into context not only of the time, but also for us here and now.
‘After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the kingdom of God.’
What does the kingdom of God look like?
Well one of the major motifs is that of a great banquet to which all are invited, Jews and Gentiles and all manner of people.
Jesus warned those who thought that they had a right to be at that Banquet, that they were in danger of missing out because they did not recognize their Host as the Messiah, Gods chosen one.
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, what do you need to do to ensure you are going to be at this great banquet?
Paul gives us answer in the Letter to the Galatians.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Let me ask you this...
Where do you think you are in the picture that Luke paints so masterfully with words?
Are you with Simon, willing to listen but cautious and then very quickly judgmental when the wrong sort of person turns up at the dinner party.
Alternatively, are you with the woman who has found forgiveness for her sins and her devotion knows no bounds as she breaks all taboos and conventions?
She is so in love with God that she is abundantly and joyously extravagant in her devotion to Jesus.
What might be our reaction be here this morning if someone began to show such unbridled emotion and love for God.
Began to sing out God’s praises and danced around the church.
Would this appear disrespectful and out of place, not the done thing.
I think that if this was to happen and we muttered and complained Jesus might want to tell us a story as well.
In 2013 the first Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis was published, Evangelii Gaudium ~ The Joy of the Gospel. In the preface Pope Francis writes; ‘the Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation, I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.’
So, let me ask, which side of the table are you sitting this morning?
Let us pause just for a moment as we think about that question.
In the ‘Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis asks why is it that Christians look more like they are going through Lent all the time rather than celebrating Easter.
Maybe it is time for us to let our hair down and join in the party.
A party that has an open invitation to each and every person with absolutely no restrictions whatsoever.
That my brothers and sisters is what we are supposed to be doing when we gather for worship.
Offering a glimpse, a foretaste of that heavenly banquet.
Psalm 34.8 declares…’Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!’
Let me end with some words from a previous Pope, His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1
And only where God is seen does life truly begin.
Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.
We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
Each of us is loved,
Each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel,
By the encounter with Christ.
There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.