The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 7:36-8:3

FOR ANY DINNER PARTY, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF UNSPOKEN AND ASSUMED CUSTOMS; LIKE WHAT TO SERVE, WHO TO INVITE, AND WHO GETS TO SIT WHERE, ESPECIALLY WHO GETS TO SIT NEXT TO CRAZY UNCLE JOE. IT WAS THE SAME IN THE FIRST CENTURY, BUT WITH DIFFERENT CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS THAT THE WRITER OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE WOULD EXPECT HIS READERS TO KNOW. UNLIKE ROME, WHERE THE SCANDAL OF WOMEN EATING WITH MEN WAS COMMON IN THE UPPER CLASS, THERE WAS NONE OF THIS IN JUDEA; MEN ATE TOGETHER AND THE WOMEN SERVED. THE MEN WOULD RECLINE ON THEIR LEFT SIDES ON CUSHIONS ON THE OUTSIDE OF A U SHAPED TABLE, AND THE WOMEN WOULD SERVE FROM THE INSIDE. THERE WOULD BE NO EXCHANGE, OR TOUCHING, BETWEEN THE MEN AND THE WOMEN, AND THE WOMEN, HEADS COVERED IN MODESTY, WOULD SERVE IN SILENCE.

SIMON THE PHARISEE HAD INVITED JESUS TO DINNER AT HIS HOUSE, AND FROM HIS NOTABLE LACK OF COMMON COURTESY, IT WOULD APPEAR THAT THE INVITATION WAS A TESTING OF JESUS, AND NOT AN ATTEMPT FOR SIMON TO GET TO KNOW JESUS BETTER. SIMON DID NOT HAVE A SERVANT WASH THE FEET OF JESUS TO CLEAN THEM BEFORE HE CAME TO THE TABLE, DID NOT GREET JESUS WITH THE CUSTOMARY KISS, NOR DID HE PROVIDE OIL FOR HIS HAIR TO CUT THE DUST OF THE ROAD. ALL OF WHICH WAS A NOT SO SUBTLE POWER-PLAY TO SHOW JESUS WHO WAS THE IMPORTANT ONE AT THIS DINNER. JESUS MAY HAVE BEEN SIMON’S GUEST, BUT SIMON INSURED THAT JESUS WOULD KNOW HE WAS NOT SIMON’S EQUAL.

FOR A WOMAN NOT OF THE FAMILY TO WALK INTO THE HOME OF ANOTHER WAS A SHOCKING BREACH OF CUSTOM, ESPECIALLY THIS WOMAN, WHO, AS A KNOWN SINNER, MADE THE WHOLE DINNER RITUALLY UNCLEAN BY HER VERY PRESENCE. WHAT SHE DID NEXT WAS SO OUTRAGEOUS THAT THE ASSEMBLED GUESTS COULD ONLY STARE WITH HORRIFIED SILENCE. SHE KNELT AT THE FEET OF JESUS, BATHED HIS FEET WITH HER TEARS AND DRIED THEM WITH HER HAIR. THEN SHE OPENED A JAR OF OINTMENT, AND WIPED IT ON HIS FEET, CARESSING AND KISSING HIS FEET. THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING HER MOTIVATION FOR THIS DISPLAY THAT IGNORED ALL CUSTOM AND PROPER BEHAVIOR IS THAT SHE DID THIS NOT TO SEEK FORGIVENESS, BUT IN GRATITUDE TO JESUS FOR THE FORGIVENESS HE HAD PREVIOUSLY EXTENDED TO HER.

JESUS, IN READING THE MIND OF SIMON, WHICH WAS PROBABLY PRETTY EASY FROM THE LOOK ON SIMON’S FACE, TOLD SIMON THIS LITTLE PARABLE ABOUT TWO DEBTORS WHO WERE FORGIVEN THEIR DEBT BY THE ONE THEY OWED. THE POINT IS NOT HOW MUCH 50 AND 500 DENARII WAS WORTH, BUT THAT ONE OWED TEN TIMES THE DEBT OF THE OTHER. WHEN THEY COULDN’T PAY, THE CREDITOR CANCELLED THE DEBT OF BOTH. SO JESUS ASKED SIMON, “WHICH OF THEM WILL LOVE HIM MORE?” SIMON’S REPLY SHOWED HOW UNWILLING HE WAS TO COMMIT HIMSELF TO ANYTHING JESUS HAD TO SAY; “I SUPPOSE,” SIMON REPLIED, “THE ONE FOR WHOM HE CANCELLED THE GREATER DEBT.” HE “SUPPOSED;” TRYING TO KEEP THIS HYPOTHETICAL AND AT A DISTANCE FROM HIMSELF, SINCE HE, AS A RIGHTEOUS MAN, HAD NO NEED OF FORGIVENESS.

THIS LITTLE PARABLE IS ABOUT FORGIVENESS, AND THE GRATITUDE THAT FORGIVENESS BRINGS, AND THE EXTRAVAGANT ACTS OF LOVE AND DEVOTIONS THAT FLOW FROM TRUE GRATITUDE FOR BEING FORGIVEN. JESUS THEN COMPARES THE LOVE AND DEVOTION OF THIS FORGIVEN SINNER WITH THE COLD AND DISTANT RECEPTION OF HIM BY SIMON. THE TRUTH OF FORGIVENESS CUTS BOTH WAYS; THE ONE WHO HAS BEEN FORGIVEN MUCH LOVES GREATLY, WHILE THE ONE WHO HAS BEEN FORGIVEN LITTLE, PERHAPS NOT EVEN SEEING THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS, LOVES LITTLE, IF AT ALL. JESUS THEN, IN THE PRESENCE OF THIS GATHERING, ASSERTS DIVINE AUTHORITY, AND TELLS THE WOMAN, AGAIN, “YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN.” FOR THOSE WHO KNOW THEY HAVE BEEN CAPTIVE TO SIN, THE WORD OF THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD CAN ONLY BRING GREAT REJOICING AND GREAT AND LOVING DEVOTION. FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEMSELVES FREE FROM SIN, THE WORD OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS CAN ONLY OFFEND THEM AND LEAD THEM TO ANGER AND REJECTION. THEN, WITH PROBABLY EVERYONE AT THE DINNER PARTY UPSET AND ANGRY AT THIS JESUS, WHO IS ACTING AS IF HE IS GOD, JESUS TELLS THE WOMAN, “GO IN PEACE, YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU.”

THE PROBLEM WITH THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE IS THAT, EVEN AS WE LISTEN TO IT, IT IS ALIVE AND BEING PLAYED OUT AGAIN RIGHT NOW. ALL OF US SEE SIMON AS THE BAD GUY IN THIS STORY, AND SO WE SIT IN JUDGMENT ON HIM. NOTICE THAT JESUS DID NOT JUDGE HIM, BUT EXPLAINED TO HIM HOW THE FORGIVENESS OF GOD HAS CONSEQUENCES, FOR GOOD AND FOR ILL, THEN DEMONSTRATED HOW GOD’S FORGIVENESS WORKS BY TELLING THE WOMAN THAT HER FAITH IN GOD’S FORGIVENESS HAS SAVED HER. HOW EASY IT IS FOR US TO SEE THE NEED FOR OTHERS TO BE FORGIVEN, AND TO FORGET THAT IT IS SOLELY BY THE GRACE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS THAT WE HAVE BEEN SAVED FROM OUR SINS.

THE ONLY WAY FOR US TO LIVE IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE ARE SINNERS; SINNERS WHO HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN ALL THINGS BY OUR FAITH IN GOD’S GRACE IN JESUS. OUR CHOICE IS SIMPLE; TO KNOW THAT WE ARE FORGIVEN SINNERS BELOVED BY GOD, AND THUS LEAD A LIFE REJOICING IN THE GRACE OF GOD SHOWING OUR LOVE AND DEVOTION TO HIM BY OUR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE OF OTHERS, OR TO DENY OUR FAILINGS AND THUS DENY OURSELVES THE TENDER EMBRACE OF GOD. THIS IS THE HEARTBREAKING TWO FOLD NATURE OF THE GOSPEL; JESUS COMES TO OFFER FORGIVENESS, AND THIS IS GREAT GOOD NEWS ONLY TO THOSE WHO KNOW THEY NEED IT. AMEN

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