4th Sunday after Pentecost.

Sermon Title: 4th Sunday after Pentecost 2016
Date: 12th June 2016
Preacher: Rev Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: 1 Kings 21:1-10, Psalm5:1-7, Galatians2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8.3

Living Presence of overflowing love,

generous in forgiveness,

clear the arteries of our hardened hearts

that we may no longer condemn others,

but, with them, trust ourselves to one another

in your merciful embrace.

We pray this after the pattern of Jesus

and in the power of the Spirit.  Amen       (‘Unfolding the Living Word’ by Jim Cotter)

As you know, I am fond of Jim Cotter’s prayers and often have them instead of our set one from the Prayer book, and one I believe reflects very well our story today.

This is another possible life changing story from Luke’s gospel for the Pharisee and for us. This is a story of an unnamed woman who gate-crashes a dinner party and proceeds to weep behind Jesus and wash his feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair and then uses ointment to complete the gift.  Jesus receives this gift but the host was not amused with her or with him!

Why do I say a gift?  Well, a gift to Jesus in ‘seeing’ this woman and seeing the release of the burden of sin that has defined her.  Jesus says to her: “Your sins are forgiven”. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Yes, a gift because to see anyone receive freedom…those ‘ah hah’ moments when a ‘burden’ has been lifted by new insight, is wonderful to behold!

And obviously a gift received earlier to the woman who says thank you and goes on her way in peace.

The woman, heard that Jesus was going to eat at the Pharisee’s house.  She obviously has already been ‘touched’ by Jesus somehow and now she comes to give thanks, and not afraid of where she does it.

But this gifting is not well received by the host.

If you put yourselves in the shoes of the Pharisee, a man who has an important position in the community, who upholds the Law and all the rituals, especially external rituals (they would avoid any physical contact with what is impure),  then what happened would have been a real shock and was probably appalling to him! Indeed we know this is so, because he says 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.”

The Pharisee is named Simon, only after the actions of the woman have taken place.  Interesting isn’t it, that in the beginning of the story it was a broad mention of ‘Pharisee’ but now we know his name.  I wonder if this is a cause to pause for the followers of Jesus especially as Simon (Peter) was one of the early disciples.  A long stretch you might say?  Well, often the writers of the gospels are careful with the names and numbers they choose…so this might be a hint for all of us too!

Not only was Simon saying to himself about what kind of woman she was, he was also thinking that Jesus isn’t a prophet but a phony….until, Jesus, who is a prophet par excellence, sees the heart of Simon and tells him a parable.

Simon, acknowledges Jesus as teacher and says ‘speak’. So he is listening to Jesus.

Jesus tells the story of a certain creditor who had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them.  Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon said “I suppose, the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.”[i]

Theologian, John Shea sheds light on this story. He says:  “The parable is stark.  The characters do not speak; no reasons for their actions are given.  If the story is to be grasped, emotional understanding will come from the listener’s experience of debt.  Some debts are difficult but doable; other debts are crushing and undoable. When a doable debt is cancelled, we are relieved; when the undoable debt is cancelled, we rise from the dead.  In both situations we feel gratitude. But with the cancellation of a debt of five hundred denarii gratitude overflows into love, a love as extravagant as the debt that was forgiven.

For those who have been in undoable debt, the question Jesus puts to Simon – “Now which of them will love him more?” – is a no-brainer.  Simon gets it right, but he gets it tentatively right. He “supposes” the ‘one for whom he cancelled the great debt.” He is guessing at the obvious math rather than feeling the gut-wrenching recognition of the movement from hopelessness to hope, from deadness to life. It is just this failure of deep living, of never having been pulled from the pit that makes Jesus’ second question so difficult, “Do you see this woman?”

Although Jesus asks him this question while Jesus is looking at the woman and so wants him to see the woman through his eyes, Simon, who has never known forgiveness so deep it can release extravagant love, does not answer.  He may see a “kind of woman.”  But he cannot see and does not know this overflowing fountain of tears, hair, perfume, and kisses.”   [ii]   end of quote.

Pause

We don’t know what the response of Simon was.

How do you think Simon responded?

How would you respond?

I wonder what you are thinking but not game to say out loud.

I think it would have been quite confronting if I were Simon.

Confronting my whole sense of what I was brought up to believe was the way to behave (although Simon didn’t even do the right thing by offering hospitality to Jesus and have his feet washed as he entered the house!)

Even with this very obvious omission, Simon I imagine would have stood his ground, maybe left confused and hopefully (I reckon the dinner party ended then) sat down and took time to process what just happened.

Simon the disciple, didn’t always get Jesus either. We know of many stories where it took some time for him to ‘see’, to understand the life-giving ways of Jesus.

So this is not to be hard on ourselves, but to be brave to look at our reactions, our feelings, where they come from, and to begin to change. To see as Jesus sees.

I have in my office a quote from Ronald Rolheiser, (who is a Catholic priest and spiritual writer) which is situated just where I turn the alarm on and off (so I see it regularly) it says “Our task is to radiate the compassion and love of God, as manifest in Jesus, in our faces and our actions.”[iii]

May those words enter my spirit and soul more and more!

I will finish with the prayer I began.

Living Presence of overflowing love,

generous in forgiveness;

clear the arteries of our hardened hearts

that we may no longer condemn others,

but, with them, trust ourselves to one another

in your merciful embrace.

We pray this after the pattern of Jesus

and in the power of the Spirit.  Amen       (‘Unfolding the Living Word’ by Jim Cotter.)

 

The Lord be with you

[i] Luke 7:41-43

[ii] The Relentless Widow: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers: Luke year C

Author  John Shea  page 161

[iii] Ronald Rolheiser O.M. I   The Holy Longing