36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And 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. 38She 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. 39Now 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.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then 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. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, 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.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
I remember some surprising guests I’ve had for dinner parties—in college, the international students all gathered round for Christmas dinner—Brits brought Yorkshire Pudding (which isn’t a pudding); Hindus brought vegetarian curry; food from Zambia.
Jen and I offered thanksgiving meal for our German friends the year we were over there. Jennifer had to make stuffing (Germans don’t have it). Cranberry sauce? German don’t have that either. We invited Russians, Germans, children, the superintendent (like a Bishop).
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is the honored guest of the Pharisee. They have a strange visitor—a woman with a shady past and a sinful present—yet, she’s the one who understands our Lord best.
#1—Middle Eastern banquets of Jesus’ day were interesting affairs.
The Pharisee would have been expected to be enthusiastic in his greeting to his guest, Jesus.
When you eat at someone’s house in Biblical times—it means that you accept them as part of your family, your kin group. Once you’ve eaten with someone, you will never again be a stranger, an outsider.
Guests in the Middle East, even today, report that they are fed over and over again. You don’t refuse—“Oh, I’m stuffed because I just ate at the house down the road.” You eat again—even if you don’t have the time or the appetite.
Because to refuse to sit down at table with them is not to reject the food, but to reject the person.
#2—Yet, Simon the Pharisee doesn’t follow the hospitality rules very strictly. To greet a guest is to provide water to wash the guest’s feet. Folks were barefoot or wore sandals in those days. Your feet picked up the dirt and grime from the streets and countryside. A kiss on the cheek was a sign of respect. And to anoint the head with oil; remember there was not a lot of bathing back then. The oil was perfumed and used to freshen up and as a deodorant; much like towels given on airplanes. Taken together, those three slights, suggest that Simon is not totally sincere. He’s not totally interested in this, his guest.
Doors in the Middle East were often open, with dogs walking through the dining space licking up scraps and people stopping by for a visit. In the days before television, a good conversation between the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth and Simon the Pharisee would have been entertaining
So it’s not odd that this woman would pass through the open doors. Anyone could come in—and often did. What the woman does is shows a sign of thankfulness that Simon the Pharisee ignored. To Simon, this meal is a time of business as usual. To the unnamed woman, she is worshipping and thankful for the forgiveness and acceptance offered.
#3—The woman shows the proper attitude to being in the presence of Jesus. Simon, on the other hand, is bored in the presence of Jesus. If we, as Christians in 2010 truly believe that we are also in the presence of Jesus during this worship hour, then we are offered the choice between thankfulness and boredom.
I’ve often talked to confirmation classes about this very issue. When you come to worship it is to offer God our thanks, that’s why you should be here. Not because of the sermon, which may be good or bad but because you are offering thanks to God.
God is the audience of our worship; not the congregation. So, every person’s thankfulness is important to God. (I would often do this little experiment with my confirmation class—I would ask them about their attendance in worship and if they understood their thankfulness is what God wants. And, invariably, someone would say, “I can be thankful outside of worship.” I would answer, “True and so can I; I don’t think I will show up this Sunday.” Shocked the confirmand would say, “But you have to be here.” To which I would reply, “So you are saying that my thankfulness is more important to God than your thankfulness?”)
You never see in the newspaper about teaching children to be rude—you don’t have to teach people that. It is thankfulness that is hard to teach. Miss Manners and Emily Post made careers out of it. But you do have to teach thankfulness, and thankfulness to God as well.
About 6 years ago now, I had major surgery for a leaking heart valve. It was a problem I had been born with but the doctors did not find until I was an adult.
In any event, I had the surgery on a Monday and can remember being in intensive care on Monday night—Monday night football was on the television. And the hospital had quieted down because the day shift folks had gone home and patients were going to bed.
The maintenance man came in to mop up the tile floors and he was an elderly African-American man. He looked at me and said, “How are you feeling tonight?”
Now, as any of you who have had major surgery know, you feel lousy. So, slowly, I answered him, “Well, I guess I know my name, I know where I am, so I am pretty thankful.”
He looked at me with a piercing look and asked, “Are you a pastor?”
“Um, yes, I am.”
“I knew it!” He nearly jumped four feet off the floor. “I knew it—only the Christians ever answer that they are thankful! May I have a moment to pray with you.”
I said of course. (He never did explain, nor did I think to ask, how he knew I was a pastor.) And he said a beautiful prayer of thankfulness.
#4—So, thankfulness to God is the reason we are here on a Sunday. Some Sundays, and some sermons, will be better than others. But you didn’t come here for me, you came here for God. And like the woman who honored Jesus, you have come here to honor and thank him.