Sunday, June 16th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3
“She has wet my feet with her tears…”
Have you ever found yourself wanting to be close to someone important, or someone well-known, or well-connected because of the benefits that might accrue to you through close association with that person? Or perhaps found yourself wanting to be close to someone especially charismatic and colourful because maybe, just maybe, some of the excitement of their life might spill over into the apparent drudgery of our daily lives? This might just have been what Simon the Pharisee was thinking when he invited Jesus into his house. Perhaps Simon thought that having this famous preacher and miracle-worker at his table might just bring him up in the estimation of his neighbours; or maybe Jesus might just do some special parlour trick and bring some wonder and amazement into the drudgery of his life and the lives of his family and friends. But whether it be for his own aggrandizement or for the entertainment of his community, one thing was certain, Simon the Pharisee was pleased to have Jesus at his table. Indeed, he was so excited that he forgot to offer Jesus the basic courtesies afforded to a guest in those days. He was not offered water to wash his feet or oil to soothe them. Now these may seem like strange courtesies, but it might have been the equivalent of failing to offer your guest a cup of tea, or a cocktail (depending on the time of day). This may not have been such a big sin. After all, how many of us, being star-struck, perhaps as Simon the Pharisee was by Jesus, might forget to offer such courtesies?
When I was a teenager, two of my best friends came and picked me up and wouldn’t tell me where they were taking me. As it turned out, we ended up on the historic main street of old Unionville. The street was blocked off because a movie was being made. The director was one of the all-time great directors of horror films, John Carpenter. We were a big fan of his movies back in those days. We hung around the film location for several evenings hoping to catch a glimpse of the fabled man, himself. We sat around and watched actors utter a few lines over and over again for several short takes, we watched the experts set up a car chase and explosion and then watched it all unfold, and finally after a few evenings of this, we were in the right place at the right time to meet the great John Carpenter. He was quite willing to meet us, to chat for a moment, and sign a few autographs. We were star-struck. And as he was signing an autograph for my buddy, Darryl, he looked up at me, stared me in the eye, and caustically uttered, “You’re in my light.”
Sometimes, we can become so star-struck, so in awe that someone special is willing to take a few moments out for us, that we have been in the presence of greatness, that we forget to offer them the simple courtesies owed to our fellow man.
Simon the Pharisee wasn’t a bad man, but perhaps his motives were in need of a little check. He wanted to be in Jesus’ presence so badly that he forgot how to truly honour Jesus. The larger question is, though, why did he want to be in the presence of Jesus? What did he hope Jesus’ presence would bring him? We shall likely never know; what we do know, though is that someone else came to Jesus that day, but she came with a very different motive.
An unnamed woman with an alabaster jar crashed the party. This woman was known to have been a great sinner, which probably meant that she was a prostitute. She longed to see Jesus; she longed to be in his presence. And so she came into Simon’s house. In that jar she had a very expensive ointment to soothe Jesus’ feet. Her act was a financially extravagant one, but what followed was perhaps even more profound. Out of the depths of her pain she wept, and weeping upon his feet, she washed his feet with her tears, and in a surprisingly erotic move, she dried them with her hair. Simon was infuriated by her extravagance, but more so by his disappointment in Jesus. Sometimes the celebrities we venerate, whom we think we know and understand, let us down, do they not? If Jesus really were a prophet, he would know and understand what kind of woman this was, and would have sent her away. But Jesus did know exactly what kind of woman this was, she was the kind of woman that needed him the most.
Where Simon was star-struck and sought to use the presence of Jesus for his own gain, his own celebrity, and perhaps his own entertainment, this woman needed the presence of Jesus for the salvation of her very life and soul. Simon did not even offer Jesus the pleasantries and courtesies of the house; this sinful woman poured out her very soul upon his feet and all her wealth upon his head. She needed him desperately, for her situation was desperate, her very soul was at stake.
To help the Pharisee to understand, Jesus told him the story of two debtors, one who owed a little, and one who owed much. The creditor forgives them both, but the point is that the one who owed so much was so much more thankful. That woman needed much forgiveness, and she knew she could find it at the feet of Jesus. The compassion of Jesus moved her to such love and adoration that she poured out everything before him and upon him, everything in her earthly store, and everything in her heart. Simon had much to give, but was so wrapped up in his own self and what Jesus might do to raise his status or please his guests that he offered little to the one who could offer him much, indeed.
One thing I must ask myself as a Christian is this: Do I want to be with Jesus, or do I need to be with Jesus? Do I want Jesus to possess as my own, or do I need to offer myself to him? What is my motive in being a Christian? Is it to raise my status, to fulfil a need to belong, to get a spiritual high or fix? Or is it to seek the one who can save me from these sinful longings and fit me for his kingdom? Is it to find in his presence the grace that so eludes me under my own striving and seeking? Is it to meet the living God upon whom I can pour all my blessing and all my woe in one act of reverence and adoration?
The Gospel of Luke is written for us “Simons.” It is written to those of us who find ourselves in the presence of the Lord and forget to offer him the courtesies of the house, or for those of us who inadvertently stand in his light. It is written for us sinners who fail to recognize in his presence his generous and saving grace, his forgiveness of our debts and his hope for our future. There is hope for Simon the Pharisee. At the end of the story, we hear of people who are both like Simon and like the sinful woman, three women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, all wealthy women who had been possessed by demons. These women had been healed by Jesus, and out of their wealth they provided the means for him to preach the good news and heal the sick and the broken-hearted. Like Simon, they had the means to have him at their table, but like the sinful women, they did so not because of what he could do for them, but because of what he had done for them. They not only wanted to be with him, they needed to be with him, they longed to be with him and pour their extravagance upon him, as he had poured his grace upon them.
I would like to think, and dare to hope, that Simon the Pharisee got the message, that his heart was strangely warmed and that he turned from his selfishness and received the grace God had to offer him. If there is hope for that sinful woman that entered Simon’s house, if there is hope for the three demon-possessed woman, and if there is even hope for Simon the Pharisee, then there is hope for me and for you as well.