sermon for 19th February Luke 7:36-50
The final part of chapter seven in Luke’s gospel describes a scenario which has become familiar; it, or a version of it, is recorded in each of the gospels, happening at a variety of times in Jesus’ ministry.
And, apart from the fact that we still don’t expect to see people weeping and using the tears to wipe dirt away, it is not now terribly shocking. We know the story; we can probably picture the scene more or less. We know that there are a number of people gathered; we know the host is a Pharisee; Luke doesn’t tell us who this woman is – all he offers is that she is a sinner. A sinner. Oh my goodness! What does that mean to us now? And to them, when this was first recorded. A sinner.
That descriptor: sinner; is not so fashionable nowadays is it? we don’t talk about sin. Ugly, dark, life-sapping sin. We prefer softer words; mistake; missing the mark; if someone tend to misbehaviour we wouldn’t want to tar them with that name – sinner. It seems far too judgemental; far too harsh. Yet, for Luke it tripped of the pen with no problem at all.
The Pharisee, Simon, was not kind; at least, he was not a welcoming host to Jesus, even though he invited him to come. He was not invited as an honoured guest; more likely as a spectacle for his friends and other guests – see I have the preacher, the healer here in my house. I’m sure his other guests were welcomed in the usual manner, in the correct manner; a foot washing to get rid of the dust of the road; a welcome embrace and kiss; oil for anointing; each was merely common courtesy, not special treatment. Jesus was there as a guest; but not necessarily as an equal.
The woman. Ah yes! The woman is nothing less than an interloper; she would never have been invited into the Pharisee’s house, sinner or not; it was simply not done to invite an unescorted woman into your home unless she was a relative. Nor was it acceptable to speak with her, let alone allow her to embrace you, wash you, kiss you, anoint you. Her behaviour was outrageous. Nothing less than scandalous.
The conjunction of these three people in this house is, on the face of it, simply wrong. And yet, here they are, and their actions and words are considered to tell of something of such importance that each of the four gospel writers felt compelled to record it.
So, what is it? what is so important that we hear it again and again; we know it; all the multiple layers gleaned from hearing each of the versions; what is it that we must hear, and know, and take on board?
Love is the thing
Love is the essence of it all.
Our English language is so limited when it comes to that simple four lettered word: L O V E
In Greek there are four different words; all depending upon how it is used; what relationship is being described.
Food – love roast lamb!
Family – love my sister
Action – love walking out in the countryside
Passion – love my husband
The woman; the sinner she loved Jesus with gratitude for all he had done, could do for her. She had seen and heard him; probably in among the crowd, witnessing his kindness, his compassion, his gifts of healing, listening to him explain that God seeks us out; each one of us. Seeks to know and love us; whoever, wherever, whenever, whatever. Because of that she dared to hope, dared to dream of a new life, a fresh start, she was led to act on it, show it, demonstrate for all to see.
She did not care who saw her; what they thought; the only important thing was to be there, to offer him whatever she had.
She was a determined, persistent woman.
She will have had to force her way in
She will have needed to remain in the shadows until the right moment. Uncovering her hair was sinful; touching a man who was not family or husband was sinful; being in the company of so many men… sinful. She did not care, she had nothing more to lose.
She was going to see Jesus; she was going to give him her greatest gift – her love and devotion. It was all for him.
All for Jesus
And still now, all these millennia later we remember her.
May we also learn from her: to show love; to be kind; to offer what we can, when we can.
May we also learn from the Pharisee: that Jesus knows our inner thoughts, can see through our outer veneer. Privately he thought to himself, if Jesus was really a prophet… and no sooner was the thought out there, Jesus called him on it; taught him through it; showed him, real love, real compassion, real generosity, in his home, but not at his hand.
Wherever we are; we can choose to be kind, or not
We can choose to speak out, or not
We can choose to act for good, or not
We know what the woman, sinful though she was, chose
May we too, choose those ways.