LUKE 7:36-50

6 Oct 2013


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             A man tells about an incident that took place when he was a small boy. His father's birthday rolled around, and he did not realize it until it was too late to get his father a birthday present. So, he went through all his resources and came up with seventeen cents. He put the dime, the nickel, and the two pennies in an envelope and gave it to his father with a note: "I love you, Dad. Happy Birthday. Thanks for being the best dad in the whole world. Sorry I did not get you a gift. This is all I've got."

Fast forward to his father's death. As an adult, when he was going through his father's possessions, he discovered within a special compartment of his father's wallet, the envelope, the note, the dime, the nickel, and the two pennies that his father had carried all those years. His father had kept it as a most precious reminder of their relationship. It was a token of pure love and pure gratitude.

They say that during your last days, especially when you are dying, your life flashes before you and your memory becomes a kind of motion picture recording of life. If so, that may have happened with Jesus while he hung on the cross dying. While dying he remembered his pinnacle moments of love and gratitude, and if that indeed took place, he likely remembered this experience..

As we peak into this dinner party, I want to pose three questions related to the three principle people at the party. First, the woman: who was she? Luke introduces her as a woman from the city, who was a sinner. That's all. No more, and it does not take too much imagination to figure what kind of sinning that entailed. By the way, Luke is the only one who records this story. Mary, of Martha and Mary fame, the sister of Lazarus does something similar, but that takes place in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, just prior to Holy Week, and this event takes place months before that in an unnamed city up north in Galilee. Mary of Bethany may have gotten her inspiration to do what she did from this woman.

We also wonder if Jesus and this woman had previously met. Had she heard his word of forgiveness at some previous encounter and had she come to thank him with an outpouring of affection? Luke does not tell us, but we wonder. Some have speculated it was the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus had previously forgiven.

Remember Jesus saying to the men who had gathered to stone, "You who is without sin, cast the first stone?" Of course, those words of forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery had only been shared between Jesus and the woman. The "stoners" had left leaving only Jesus and the woman. Maybe it was the woman caught in adultery. In fact, I would like to think so, but we cannot say.

I do know, however, that the way she treats Jesus makes me quite uncomfortable. Some public displays of affection I find cute, some not so cute. When I was younger I thought an old couple holding hands was cute. Now, I'm half of an old couple. This public display of affection, however, is not cute. It's a little too intimate for me, and if we think this would be uncomfortable today, it would have been almost unimaginable back then. Women did not intrude into the company of men who were reclining at a table for dinner. As to her very public display of affection, it would have been excessive in the extreme - letting down her long hair in public (not done, that was done behind closed doors with one's spouse), wiping his feet with it and kissing them (please - this is getting just too, too intimate).

And then we wonder where she went after Jesus said to her at the end of the night, "Go in peace." Where could she go? She seems to have burned a number of bridges in town. Well, let me offer a possible answer to that. Again, a possible answer, not a definitive answer. Look with me for a moment at the first three verses of the next chapter. Follow along as I read them ...

Soon afterwards (that is soon after this dinner party) 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.

Could this woman have been one of women who followed him out of town? Could she had been one of the "many others" who helped to fund Jesus' ministry? She probably had the means to do so given she anointed Jesus' feet from an alabaster jar she had brought with her to the dinner party. So, that's what we can say about the woman. The second person to consider is the Pharisee and we bring a number of questions concerning him: "Who was he? What was he like? What was his interest in Jesus?"

Well, at least we know his name. Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." We also know he was a poor host. When a guest entered a house, the host was supposed to do three things. First, the host placed his hand on the guest's shoulder and gave him a kiss of peace. Omitting the kiss was a sign of disrespect, especially when it involved a distinguished rabbi. Second, a host made sure cool water was poured over the guest's feet to cleanse and comfort them. That was because the roads at that time were only dust tracks and shoes were only soles held in place by straps across the foot. The host may not pour the water, but the host made sure someone in the house did. This also was omitted. Third, the host made sure a pinch of attar, a distillate of flowers and herbs, and spices and sandalwood oil capable of absorbing aroma was placed on the guest's head. These things were expected.

They were a sign of good manners, and in Simon's case not one of them was performed on Jesus.

So, given Simon's obvious lack of respect for Jesus, why would he invite Jesus to his house at all? Two possibilities spring to mind. It could be that Simon invited him with the deliberate intention of enticing Jesus into some word or action which might have been the basis of a charge against him. He invited him to trip him up. That's one possibility. William Barclay, the biblical commentator, offers another possibility. He believes Simon was a collector of celebrities, and had simply invited this startling Galilean to have a meal with him.

Given all we know about Simon, the Pharisee, do you remember the musical, The Music Man? In the musical Professor Harold Hill comes to a small town in the Midwest to sell musical instruments. He gets the town's attention by pointing out the trouble a pool hall could bring to the town. He sings, "Ya got trouble, right here in River City! With a capital 'T' And that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'Pool.'"

Well, when thinking about Simon, "We got "trouble" right here in River City. With a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'Pharisee.'" A Pharisee named Simon.

That brings us to the third character in the story, Jesus, and our question is, "Why did Jesus accept the dinner invitation?"

A number of reasons come to mind. Number one, he seemed to like parties. He was often criticized on that score. He was often criticized for hanging around the wrong crowd, being a friend of sinners and all. He even had a taste for fine wine, turning water into wine at a wedding reception, and making really, really good wine ... at least that's what the guests at the reception said. From going to parties and turning water into wine, Jesus was often accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about a frat boy kind of party guy, but he liked people. He liked going to dinner. He appreciated good food and good company. In that regard he was the polar opposite of his cousin, John the Baptist.

Second, he accepted the dinner invitation because Jesus had something in common with the Pharisees, these lovers of the law of Moses. He loved the law of Moses as they loved the law of Moses. He sometimes interpreted it differently, but they shared a love of the law. And this is not the only time Jesus accepted a dinner invitation to the home of a Pharisee. In fact, he'll do it two more times in Luke's gospel.

And third, and maybe most importantly, he accepted the dinner invitation because he was on the side of sinners even a self-righteous sinner like Simon.

Note the two types of sinners at the dinner party. One of them did not know Jesus was on his side. One of them did. One of them had a sin easily recognizable. In fact, everybody at the party recognized it. She had been selling her body. What was much harder to recognize was Simon's sin, but Jesus recognized it. Simon was a pillar of the community. He was a lover of the law. He was highly respected by his friends, but Jesus saw beyond that. Jesus saw a smug, self-righteous spirit in the Pharisee, and tragically only one of the two sinners ended up being forgiven. Two sinners. Only one forgiven. One very aware of her sin. One oblivious to his.

I think of the young pastor who was visiting a very humble family in the mountains of East Tennessee. There was not much more than a shack. A member of the church was with the pastor. The member was a pillar of the church, a middle-aged man of some means. They had come to the home to deliver a Christmas basket which was obviously needed. There were several children in the family. They were on food stamps.

As they visited the young pastor tried in every way to show the love of Christ to this family, to show acceptance and to epitomize the Christmas spirit, but just before he and his layman left their home, the layman walked over to the television set and swiped his finger across the top of the set and and displayed to all in the home the layer of dust on his finger. Then he shook his head somberly in disapproval. The young pastor wanted to sink through the floor. The love and the grace of Jesus Christ completely undone by this ungracious, spiritually smug layman.

The great evangelist and author F.B. Meyer, no relation, said that when we see someone in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard that person tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed the person. But really there is a third thing we do not know. We don’t know what we would have done in the same circumstances.[1]

We may love the song but have we ever felt the emotion: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Have we ever seen ourselves as a wretch? The woman did. I doubt Simon ever did. Were we ever lost or blind? The woman was. I doubt Simon ever was.

Listen to the punch line of the parable that Jesus told Simon one more time. You may want to underline it, maybe we even ought to underline it our pew bible. Elders, how many think we should underline it in the pew bible? See it in verse 47? "The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." Let's think about that little gem as we come to the Lord's table. “The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."

[1] Stephen Brown, Christianity Today, April 5, 1993, p. 17.