Did you ever play that game, Simon Says? Simon says: touch your nose, and you have to touch your nose. Simon says, touch the top of your head with your left hand – and you touch your head with your left hand. Jump up and down! And if you jump up and down, you’re out. You only do what Simon says, if Simon first says, “Simon Says!”
Simon, a rich leader in town, invited Jesus to dinner at his house. At such a banquet, the guests would lie comfortably on their side on pillows, with their feet pointing away from a common space in the middle where the food was served to them. These were open air villas, and it was not uncommon for the uninvited to gather around just outside where they could see in. And at Simon’s house, a woman in the city, who was a sinner, saw her chance to come near to Jesus. And standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she 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 ointment from a jar of alabaster she brought along.
From the very beginning, Christian interpreters have jumped to conclusions about this woman’s sin: basically that she must be a harlot. But today, thanks to Feminism’s fresh perspective, and research, we find that’s not likely what her sin is. First of all, she comes to Jesus weeping, and as sensual as it might sound that she has let her hair down to dry her tears on Jesus’ feet and anoint them, this was also the very common practice of grieving women, and women who had been shamed by the system. And, to point out the obvious, no one, not Simon or Jesus, describe her sin as that of a harlot in the story, but instead, what her sins are, seem left open on purpose by Luke, that we, the reader, might be allowed to fill in the blank of our own sin, as we come to see ourselves in her – after all, there but for the grace of God go we.
Simon Says: “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." Simon is confident in his Intel that he thinks he has on her, though he doesn’t share any details, only that in his open disdain he is happy to have it known to all that he condemns her, and believes Jesus – if he wanted to show his Prophetic Intel skills – should have shunned her. Simon Says: bad Jesus, don’t let her touch you! But Jesus doesn’t do what Simon says! He doesn’t play Simon’s game.
In the wake of the NSA Intel scandal this week, President Obama, and the leaker, Edward Snowden, agree on one thing at least, that the country deserves a conversation on privacy vs. safety. Did the Administration follow the provisions of the FISA Court? Is a countrywide collection of metadata a violation of the 4th Amendment? Does the government’s use of it, even if they don’t listen to actual conversations, actually protect us from terrorism? Do we really know anything, seeing the powers the government has under the Patriot Act for collecting Intel are totally classified? Is this data collection any different than giving up our credit card and Social Media information? This is a good discussion to have!
And more to the point for us. What are people of faith supposed to believe about the NSA’s huge data mining? And what does the bible and Christian tradition tell us about privacy and Intelligence? When our cell phones reveal where we’re at all times, and patterns of calls can discover impending corporate takeovers, sensitive medical information or reporter’s sources, is this acceptable? It is a technology that has caught the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – “the mastermind of 911.” But doing this to everyone? So much of this process is classified and secret, and we are asked to just trust the person in the Oval Office. And, maybe today you do, but who’s to say the next one in charge won’t use these broad powers to monitor groups s/he considers “the enemy?” That’s exactly how the FISA Court came in to existence during the Nixon Administration. And since 911, the system was subverted and has been used against the Quakers, for instance, and also in the last couple years against Occupy Wall Street.
“It's remarkably easy to use connections made through cell phones and social media to convince people that they're being watched 24/7,” says Daniel Schulz, an Intel watcher. “This makes dividing and conquering a snap,” he says, through “a visit from the police or, even better, an anonymous e-mail or call.”
After Jesus forgives the woman who anointed him, by declaring that “her faith has saved her,” and sends her to “go in peace,” Jesus departs as well, to go “through other cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the realm of God.” And, “the twelve were with him,” Luke says, “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.”
Simon Says: don’t have any contact with, “them.” They look suspicious – women who were sinners, who had evil spirits and infirmities, but Jesus doesn’t do what Simon says! “The twelve were with him” too, but it’s these women “who provided for [all of] them out of their resources.” This counter-cultural group of redeemed outcasts, like some kind of traveling circus, are sponsored and paid for by this, Women’s 501(c)3 of Galilee. Two of the women, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, were also at the cross of Jesus, on Good Friday, when all the others had abandoned him.
Jesus says to Simon: Simon, look at them, really look. Your Intel on them is not only wrong, it’s not the way to the realm of God, or the creation of the new community of God that’s emerging here among us.
“Historically,” says Daniel Schultz, “[although the collection of Inel] is what… States have been about. It’s not blackmail they're after, or even evidence of seditious activity. It's convincing people that they can't trust anyone.”
In the end, a life of faith, means living our values even when it's costly. If it’s our connections to others that make us human, what we need is to work to build stronger communities – to build trust, and refuse to fear our neighbor.
Metadata Intelligence can be great for Social-Media community making, but disastrous for real communities, where real people need to connect and be supported, need to love and be loved, to share art, ideas, and humor, or just hang out together with a beverage of your choice.
Simon Says: our safety is worth demonizing and ostracizing others, even if it turns out that innocent people are dehumanized, or victims of violence. Jesus Says: the realm of God is not like this. Instead, says Jesus, God wants us to widen the circle so that the outcast, those who have been filled with shame because they alone have been named and called out as “the sinners,” may be let in, to show the rest of us the log in our own eye, and so increase the love we all have for Jesus, who teaches us to invite everyone, the whole community together in hopefulness. These women get it, the Women’s 501(c)3 of Galilee, who provided for them out of their resources.
I don’t think we’ll get to the beauty and complexity of forgiveness and the grace of God until we are somehow given to see that Jesus is really on the side of the sinner. When you glimpse this, it’s always breathtaking. Paul Tillich says, “Here we approach a mystery, which is the mystery of the Christian message itself in its paradoxical depth.” Jesus, of course, doesn’t do what Simon Says. He doesn’t play that game. Instead, what’s earth-shaking, is that the mighty are brought low, and the humble are raised up. And we all meet together at dining tables of grace and love, forgiveness and celebration, sharing of the one loaf, one body.