Thursday, June 09, 2016

Reflections on the 4th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C


Luke 7:36-8:3
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, 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 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."
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

We've spent the last few weeks talking about power. Two weeks ago, we heard about the power of earthly might. The centurion in Capernaum can with a word command that Jesus come to his home and heal his slave. Even just the slightest suggestion on his part to the local authorities is enough to send them to Jesus and beseech his attention for a dying slave. The centurion chooses instead to recognize under what authority he is acting and effectively puts it at Jesus' feet. The power of the world is shown as subject to Jesus' authority and still God's grace through his Son abounds.

Last week, we met the widow of Nain and her dead son. Here, Jesus oversteps the Law and touches the pollution of the dead in order to restore a son to his mother. He at once recognizes the injustice of her loss and peril while at the same time he acts to save her. All the while, he highlights that hope and faith are there at the gate of death not just as elements of palliative comfort, but also as trans-formative agency. Power in this case alters even death itself in order to not only give life back to a dead man, but also recourse to a widow who had lost her only son, her only support and her only protection from a world that would have in his absence eaten her up, and spit her husk out in contempt.

Contempt and the power of grace are at work this week, to boot: Jesus is attending a dinner at the house of a Pharisee, and the guest list is by all accounts quite impressive. The best folk are there to hear the good teacher hold forth, depart wisdom and (as happens often at dinners of this sort) provide what we would call "entertainment." During the meal, a woman enters, and with her comes her shame and low reputation. She moves to the Teacher, and proceeds to wash his feet with her tears, anoint them with costly perfume and then wipe them with her own hair. An astounding, humble and intimate act of care and affection....and one that causes affront and scandal in many of the guests. The lesson is succinct and swift: the power to bless forges deeper connections than the power to control, coerce or project value (or a lack thereof) on anyone. Jesus blesses...and forgives. He also points out that her consideration exceeds, dramatically, the hospitality he was offered under his host's roof. Power, in this case, is exercised by someone who presumably has NONE. The woman's act forges and impact that lasts to this day: don't count the meek, the "sinner" or anyone as lost or contemptible. Redemption is given freely by God to any open heart....

...and often even to those hearts that are closed.

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