Called to Grow: Forgiveness
February 19, 2017
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,[b] 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[c] 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.” -Luke 7: 36-50
Scanning a bookshelf at our house recently, I found myself wondering what it would be like to NOT have these stories in my life…
What would my childhood have been like without Barbar and Curious George? Madeline and Laura Ingalls Wilder? What would my adolescence have been like without the The Hiding Place, Anne of Green Gables, and The Baby-Sitters Club? What would my angsty teen years have been like without To Kill a Mockingbird and anything written by Judy Blume?
What if I had never heard of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth?
What if I had never met Kristina from Vilhelm Moberg’s “The Immigrants”? What would I do without Edmund, Peter, Susan and Lucy?
Imagine your favorite book character…and now imagine that character had never come into your life.
Yeah, no thanks.
Stories and storybook characters hold prominent places in our lives…they teach us so much: how to love, how to be courageous, how to laugh, how to be curious. They bring us to places we never thought we would go…Japanese Internment Camps and Nazi Germany, Colonial America and Modern Day Haiti…just a few of the places I’ve been carried to over the past year.
Good stories…have a way of inhabiting a place in our hearts that we cannot shake…
But admittedly, they have their limits. They are not meant to answer every question and fill in every blank. This is where we the reader comes in…where something is required of us…this is where we are asked to draw on upon our imagination.
To arrange the furniture in Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s Dam…to smell the fire from the fireplace in the Little House in the Big Woods…to imagine what the gardens of Pemberly looked like.
Something is blessedly required of us so that we fully enter in…
The Biblical Story is no different. It is on the one hand so frustrating that the gospel writers were not more comprehensive in their accounts of Jesus…but on the other hand maybe they are doing us a favor.
Something is required of us in the reading of the Biblical story. It is meant to produce as many questions as it is answers. What prompted this? What was the response? What would we have done? And all of sudden, we are swept up. We are in the text.
Story invites us to open our mind, our posture, to something beyond ourselves. Story pulls us out beyond our limits and invites us to have seat at a table that we did not set.
Today’s story, found in Luke 7, literally invites us to pull up a chair…or cushion as it were…and have a seat at the table. But soon after sitting down, we realize this in not your typical dinner party. One of the first problems we soon encounter is that as dinner guests, we are given a whole lotta present, but very little past…
We know that a Pharisee named Simon has a dinner party, and invites Jesus. We know that a woman, whose only distinguishing feature is her sinfulness…finds out about the dinner party and sneaks in with an alabaster jar of oil. We know that she promptly pours the oil over his feet, washes them with her tears, and dries them with her hair.
Oh…and we know that this is not normal behavior.
That’s the present…but what about the past? Well, there’s a whole lot we don’t know…We don’t know what has happened in the past to make this woman’s primary identity her sin. We don’t know what prompted Simon the Pharisee to invite Jesus for dinner. We don’t know what or how the woman had heard about Jesus. We haven’t even had the first course yet and there is plenty here to be curious about…
I can’t seem to shake the woman’s story…She enters a dinner party where she is not invited and makes a huge scene…I mean, there is no way to cry quite literally onto someone’s feet and not have it be a bit of a distraction. I mean, the times that I’ve tried it anyway…
In order for a woman in that day and age…especially one synonymous with the word ‘sinner’ to make such a display in front a group that must have had quite a few men…we can easily imagine that she was absolutely desperate and that her actions were fueled by an enormous amount of pain.
My husband Kyle is known for a saying…that is sad but so true. “There’s a lot of pain in the world.”
He says it so much his colleagues even made him a shirt that says, “There’s a lot of pain in the world.” And there is…there is so much pain in the world. This woman might has well have been wearing Kyle’s shirt…Because the pain she was carrying was palpable…and public.
“A woman, who was a sinner….” There’s two strikes…pretty sure her erratic dinner party behavior will be strike three.
She pours out the oil, and her tears, and her whole life of sin and shame onto Jesus feet…and we’re sitting there at the table…our eyes wide as all the guests present.
Now the story turns to Simon, the host of the dinner. The text says, “He said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touch him—that she is a sinner.”
There are two words in these verses that I find fascinating…”to himself.”
In all the other gospel stories that echo this passage…stories of Jesus being anointed by a woman with expensive oil…the disgust towards the woman is shared by the dinner guests, or the disciples…it is collective. But here in Luke…it’s private. Simon says…to himself.
This is that inner monologue. You know the one, the one where if its to yourself its not that bad, right? Its not like you said it out loud??? And the thing is, I get it…Simon had arranged the dinner, invited the guests, this was his time with Jesus to figure out who he was and what he was about and this WOMAN…this sinful woman…comes in and steals the show…
And so Simon says…talk to yourself And so he says to himself…
And I say to myself…
And we say to ourselves…
And Jesus hears us. And Jesus knows us. And Jesus calls us out. Like he did to Simon…
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[c] 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.”
I’ll admit there was a bit of enjoyment for me reading about Jesus calling out Simon for his bad manners. “Simon, the stuff you were supposed to do, was done by a woman.”
Simon, the woman, the stuff she’s done before? It is not your concern. Maybe you should be concerned with your own stuff. Maybe work on directing your inner monologue towards me and instead of a cul-de-sac of your own self-righteousness (that’s my loose translation).
Simon…forgiveness tastes better than self-righteousness. This woman…known for her sin publicly, was judged PRIVATELY by the Pharisee. But here’s the beautiful thing: Jesus’ forgiveness is big enough for them both.
As wide as a public sin, as deep as private judgment…there is no realm where God’s forgiveness does not go. Past, present, and future…There is NOTHING out of the realm of God’s forgiveness.
He meets the woman on the floor…he meets Simon at the table…and he meets you and me right here. There is nothing out of the realm of God’s forgiveness.
The ‘future’ of this passage is just as vague as the ‘past.’ There are so many unknowns at the end of this passage…
-What happened to the woman?
-How did Simon respond?
-What was for dessert?
We don’t know because we don’t need to know. One commentator suggests that by the end of the passage, Luke is more interested in how we respond.
The story ends but we’re still at the table, trying to figure out if we embody more Pharisee or Sinner…Who would we move towards? Do we have more public sin or private judgement?
Jesus moves towards both, and I think we are called to do the same. Jesus is willing to sit down at a meal with Pharisees, and sinners, and tax-collectors…and you and me.
Our invitation is the same.
Forgiveness is the invitation. It comes in public…it comes in private. It comes towards others, and comes towards ourselves. It comes from God…and it goes to GOD. Friends, if there is nothing out of the realm of God’s forgiveness, there is NOTHING OUT OF THE REALM OF OUR FORGIVENESS.
I’ve had the privilege to hear many stories over the past seven months, and I’ve heard deep joy and deep sadness. But I know there are many hurts and pains that I have not heard…I know that for some of you…they have followed you into this place.
There’s a lot of pain in the world. I read that on a t-shirt somewhere…
So why should we forgive the parent who mistreated us? Why should we forgive the politician we disagree with, the co-worker who stabbed us in the back, the spouse who cheated on us, the child who threw our values away? Particularly if these people aren't sorry. If there is no repentance, no restitution. It isn't right! They don’t deserve it!
Forgiveness is an offense to our universal instinct for fair play. In Simon’s mind, the woman was a sinner. End of story. But for Jesus, it was the beginning of her story. Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
“Your sins are forgiven.” We offer forgiveness because we first were forgiven. If nothing is out of the realm of God’s forgiveness, nothing should be out of the realm of our forgiveness. Forgiving will release not just the person that wronged you…but you yourself.
Lewis Smedes says, “To forgive is to put down your 50-pound pack after a 10-mile climb up a mountain. To forgive is to fall into a chair after a marathon. To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. To forgive is to reach back into your hurting past and recreate it in your memory so that you can begin again. To forgive is to dance to the beat of God's forgiving heart. It is to ride the crest of love's strongest wave. Our only escape from history's cruel unfairness, our only passage to the future's creative possibilities, is the miracle of forgiving.”
Forgiveness is God’s answer to ‘all the pain in the world.” Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in Peace.”
From our spot at the end of the table, we look to see if Jesus is saying this to Simon or the Sinner…
And then we realize…he’s looking right at us. Thanks be to God.