4th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11
What Does It Take? by Pastor Kinsey
What does it take to be noticed? “Do you see this woman?” Jesus says to Simon in our gospel, who then proceeds to lift her up as a great example. Jesus points out her act of love. But more than that, he’s asking us if we notice?
I remember, years ago, playing Peek-a-Boo with my nieces and nephews when they were little. There’s something about the simple, no-cost, game, that just delights children, and puts big smiles on their faces. Being noticed is a validating and delightful thing!
On the other hand, do we seem to play hide-and-go-seek, for example, with the poor and homeless, even though they live and walk the same streets with us? If we notice them, do we really consciously see them as people we should engage – talk to, or develop a relationship with? Everyone seems to know the tent city that lives under the Wilson viaduct. But are they people we think of as living in the same circles of friends we have? Has our culture taught us to play hide-and-seek… with more emphasis on the former than the later?!
Who is Melania Trump, or any other model we see looking at us from the magazines in the check-out line, or smiling in car commercials? Who are the women, more than 1 in 3 in the United States, who have experienced intimate-partner-violence in their lifetime? Who are the women who go to work and earn 79 cents on the dollar for the same work men are doing in the cubicles right next to them?
What does it take to be noticed, appreciated, and treated with the respect Jesus gives to every person he encounters?
This story of a woman in the city who was a sinner, is wrapped in a story about the importance of hospitality. A long tradition of interpretation, jumped to the conclusion early on, that this un-named woman must be Mary Magdalene, and thus the sins in question have to do with prostitution. That tradition has been bolstered in our time by an Elizabethan gloss that she must have let her hair down is some sexualized way. But as Amy-Jill Levine has recently said, this is not accurate to the Jewish tradition. And she offers a variety of more, historically valid explanations for letting her hair down: including, women who are grieving, or who show gratefulness… a gesture of sacrifice to a god, or a demonstrative pleading. Using her hair to wash and anoint Jesus’ feet, may suggest intimacy, but it need not be erotic, Levine says.
That the un-named woman stood behind Jesus at his feet at the rich man’s house, tells us they are dining in an open air portico, where the guests would recline on couches, that look more like short benches to us. Servants brought food from the inside, while people like the un-named woman could easily approach from the street side.
It is the rich ruler in the story, Simon, who makes the story all about the woman’s sins, as she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, kisses his feet and anoints them with the ointment she brought in the alabaster jar. Jesus must not be much of a learned man if he doesn’t understand this, Simon suggests to his guests. Although we need to give the rich host some credit, in that he has the courage and interest at least to invite Jesus to dine with him in the first place. He is curious, and willing to engage in dialog with Jesus.
But Jesus is much wiser than the rich man expects. And Jesus tells a parable that ensnares Simon, just like Nathan reeled King David in, in our First Reading. 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." 41A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other [only] fifty. 42 Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two, do you think, would be more grateful?” 43Simon – starting to feel the tension rise – answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." "That’s right," said Jesus . 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?” Of course, Simon has only seen her as a sinner, a poor woman that he is under no obligation to treat as an equal.
But Jesus says, I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. 46You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? 47Therefore, 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."
The startling difference here is in how Simon and the woman each treat Jesus. Simon is miserly and guarded, and so doesn’t know how to welcome Jesus into his home. But it is this un-named, ill-treated woman, ironically, who offers Jesus the appropriate hospitality. Simon ‘the rebuker’ is himself rebuked – while the rebuked-woman, is named the perfect hostess and is forgiven her sins, even though she seems, never to have confessed them.
As [Pastor] Michael Lindvall notes, Simon‘s hospitality is really all about himself and his personal spiritual interests. Our society, and even our churches sometimes, are populated with more than a few Simon’s, whose interest in spirituality never grows beyond the self-help section into anything more life-giving for the world.
The woman, by contrast, offers Jesus a hospitality that is all about Jesus and the kingdom he has announced. There is no bracketed theological dinner talk, only her beautiful act of putting her body on the line for what she believes in. She needs Jesus, not to round out her personal spirituality, but she is seeking, like all of us, to become whole, the human being she was created to be. (Lindvall)
Jesus shows the glaring contrast between Simon’s behavior, and the tenderness and respect offered by the woman, as [Campus Pastor] Mihee Kim-Kort has observed. Simon is so convinced of his own righteousness that he doesn’t feel he is in need of forgiveness. Do you know anyone like that? But if we are unable to feel its need, how can we know forgiveness, or experience the love that makes it possible for us to forgive others? One cannot claim to be a follower of Jesus, it seems, and not be ready to fall at his feet, to know the need for forgiveness and mercy.
But if we live the life that Jesus calls us to, we will become more and more infected with the gift of the Holy Spirit, that gives us the courage to offer our life back in sacrifice to the world, and to be instruments of grace and forgiveness too – whether we do that in our work, as parents, or the ways we volunteer and support family, friends or the causes we believe in.
The world may not notice, but Jesus does. Jesus sees us, eye to eye, and lifts us up. We have the opportunity for forgiveness every day, and are raised to stand up to the Simon’s of our world, to love the un-noticed all around us, and to show God’s love.