Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Struggle With Grace. A Homily for June 16, 2013, the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, from Luke 7:36-50


Homily for 6.16.13
LUKE 7:36-50
11th Sunday in 
Ordinary Time
Year C








The Lectionary Gospel reading for this Sunday concerns Simon and the sinner woman. Here, St. Luke offers us a powerful expression of the alternative way of seeing the world, the way of seeing that Jesus advances to all who would come to him in faith. It is a world of wholeness while still being fractured, of hope in the valley of despair, of humanness within the inhumanness of violence and greed and abundant life in the midst of a culture of death.

The account begins with these words:
“A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.”
We see from this that not all Pharisees stood against Jesus, or at least we could say that some sought to learn about him. Some, like Simon, were on the fence and perhaps this meal was his way to check out this young man, this would be prophet, in order to discern if he was truly from the Lord.

But, something happens to interrupt the party:
“Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.”
Of course we know that that a near-eastern dinner party in the first century was a much different occasion than what we experience today in the West at the beginning of the 21st Century. This type of event in Jesus’ time was a social occasion, with neighbors, friends and even strangers coming and going and listening to the conversation of those dining.

Suddenly, a woman of ill repute crashes the party. Luke describers her has a sinful woman, and we are immediately caused to ask why a sinful woman would attend such a social occasion? It is not at once obvious. What kind of sins had she committed? Her hair is down which might indicate prostitution, but we really do not know. 

Simon, seeing how Jesus responds to this woman -- letting her do ministry to Jesus' person -- makes his deciding judgment:
“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.’”

Fred Craddock, in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel brings this portion of the pericope into sharp relief. He writes:
“Here are two religious leaders suddenly in the presence of a sinful woman. One has an understanding of righteousness which causes him to distance himself from her; the other understands righteousness to mean moving toward her with forgiveness and the blessing of peace.” (pg. 105)
This sinful woman sobs before Jesus because of her sin, Jesus receives her ministrations, but the Pharisee heaps judgment on the woman and heaps even more judgment on Jesus for failing to notice that the woman before him was actually "unclean."  Remember this: Self righteousness always leads to spiritual blindness. How startlingly sad it is, then, when the proud and religious refuse -- or are for some reason unable -- to see their own sin, which allows them therefore to cut others deep and wide. 

Here, I am always reminded of poet Evangeline Paterson’s poem called LAMENT. I have shared it from this pulpit before, but in this context it is well worth repeating:

Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
with a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.

Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come to save them)
But weep, weep for the quenchers

For when the Day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines
Then their eyes will be opened
On a waste place,
Smoldering,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced 
By broken reed stems...
Wood, hay, stubble,
And no grass springing, 
And all the birds flown.

Weep, weep for those
Who made a desert 
In the name of the Lord.

What we see in today’s text, therefore -- through Jesus the Prophet who is more than a prophet -- is the call of GOD’s grace to our words and our works. We see presented the life of grace that not only wants GOD's forgiveness for ourselves, but for others as well. Jesus opens before us a GOD who is generous, forgiving, and surprising in generosity and forgiveness! To our astonishment, as GOD the Almighty moves toward the world and becomes part of it, he moves not in anger or judgment but in open sacrificial love and ongoing reconciling forgiveness, where even his correction is out of love and a desire for restitution.

St. John’s gospel gives us the the quintessential version of this grace:
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
But, like Simon we struggle with grace. Why?  It is a curiosity how grace doesn't sit too well with us. You see, instead of grace we would like to have a handle on GOD, thank you very much. We want to be able to read the Almighty our resume and be able to say, 
"See, here; look at this good thing that I have done. So, you really must like me because I'm really OK!" 
But, GOD, of course, seeing much beyond such prattle, peers into the deep, seeing into the heart with all its crags and crevices. But, in our self-righteousness we do not see what GOD sees. As we said earlier, self-righteousness blinds us spiritually. This really is the power of Jesus’ question to the Pharisee: 
“Simon do you see this woman?” 
Of, course he saw her, but he did not really see her. He did not because he could not. He could not see beyond her sin and his own self-righteousness; he could not find the ones whom GOD loved, neither this woman or himself.

I tell you grace offers us no easy passage because the false-self is constantly in the middle of the road, flagging forward our ego.  Jacques Ellul, the French sociologist, is instructive here. In his book, Living Faith, (sadly, now out of print) he makes this point when he writes: 
"The really unbearable thing for us is grace, because while it is, to be sure, the expression of infinite love, it is also totally gratuitous. You can't buy it or exchange it. You can't deal for it or get the hang of it.  You'll go no where with influence, indulgences, collusion...Grace is the hardest thing for us to be reconciled to, because it implies the renouncing of our pretensions, our power, our pomp and circumstance." (pg. 151)
We would do well to ponder this thought daily, for we are far too vulnerable to a judgmental heart.

But, Professor Craddock reminds us that St. Luke’s text has something else in mind with his story, beyond contrasting Jesus and the Pharisee. He writes:
“...the context should have alerted us that the contrast Luke has in mind (29-30) is between Simon and the woman in their response to Jesus.”
As a reminder, Luke 7:29-30 reads:
29 (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John's baptism. 30 But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves.)
So, here then is the heart of the story. Jesus says:
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.
Simon’s response to Jesus is skepticism, judgment and finally rejection. The woman’s response to Jesus is self-honesty, heart-brokenness and spiritual embrace. Which leads us to ask just what our response to Jesus looks like? Do we embrace the LORD because we are lost without him, because we have no where else to go and because he alone has the words of eternal life? Do we daily choose to live this alternative way of being in the world, living within real humanness and abundance? May it be so with us.

We close with part of the lyric from Chris Rice’s Untitled Hymn:

Weak and wounded sinner 

Lost and left to die 
O, raise your head, for love is passing by 
Come to Jesus 
Come to Jesus 
Come to Jesus and live! 

Now your burden's lifted 
And carried far away 
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so 
Sing to Jesus 
Sing to Jesus 
Sing to Jesus and live!


___________________________

Luke 7:36-50
A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him,
and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.
Now there was a sinful woman in the city
who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee.
Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,
she stood behind him at his feet weeping
and began to bathe his feet with her tears.
Then she wiped them with her hair,
kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself,
“If this man were a prophet,
he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,
that she is a sinner.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Tell me, teacher, ” he said.
“Two people were in debt to a certain creditor;
one owed five hundred day’s wages and the other owed fifty.
Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both.
Which of them will love him more?”
Simon said in reply,
“The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”
He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,
“Do you see this woman?
When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet,
but she has bathed them with her tears
and wiped them with her hair.
You did not give me a kiss,
but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
You did not anoint my head with oil,
but she anointed my feet with ointment.
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”