Fourth Weekend After Pentecost (C/RCL): “Rescued: Great Gratitude, Lavish Love”
June 11-12, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
They didn’t text two thousand years ago, but the grapevine worked just fine. ‘Didn’t take long for word to spread that Jesus was a guest at the home of Simon the Pharisee, just like it hadn’t taken long for news to get around about the sin of the woman who showed up uninvited and unwelcomed. We’re not in the know about how she sinned, but it was bad enough that “sinner” was how people thought of her ever after, rather than daughter, mother, wife, neighbor, or whatever her name was.
To us, her name is “Anonymous.” Because of a theological miscue in the 10th century, the loving footwasher in today’s Gospel is still sometimes mistakenly identified as Mary Magdalene, who is still sometimes mistakenly identified as a fallen woman. Wrong on both counts. Let’s just accept that we don’t know who this woman is, or what her sin was. ‘Makes it easier for us to imagine that she is us.
A man named Simon invited Jesus to his home. He was a Pharisee, member of a Jewish sect made up of men passionate about keeping God’s Law. Jesus was passionate about God’s Law, too, but saw deeper into the heart of it and always interpreted God’s Law in the light of God’s Love.
That’s why Jesus didn’t send this woman packing. It’s quite a scene. She’d learned Jesus’ whereabouts, entered Simon’s home, stationed herself at Jesus’ feet. (Apparently He was reclining at table, like at Passover, half-lying on the floor or maybe on cushions, propped up on one elbow, with his legs angled out behind Him. Our friend Anonymous quietly appeared and began to “cry a river.” This was more than a few crocodile tears. Can you imagine crying so hard and so long that your tears wet someone’s feet to the point that you’d have to dry them off?? “Necessity, the mother of invention”: not having a towel, not having a tablecloth (or not wanting to pull it off the table!), she took off her veil, unbound her hair and used it to dry Jesus’ feet. That was shocking enough. (We can only imagine everyone had stopped eating to witness this unexpected, and in their eyes bizarre, interlude.)
Before we go on, though, let’s ask: why was she crying?? Were these tears of remorse for doing awful things, tears of petition that Jesus forgive what she may have considered unforgivable, or tears of joy that she already felt herself forgiven?? Let’s consider her liberated and buoyant and grateful, not pathetic in any way.
Simon was scandalized that a rabbi, a teacher, would allow a sinful woman to touch him. He was further scandalized by seeing the woman kiss Jesus feet over and over, and massage his feet with perfumed ointment. It’s like a drawbridge went up in Simon’s mind, separating him from Jesus, the teacher from whom he had hoped to learn. If Jesus allowed this low-brow behavior, Simon thought to himself, he must not be a man after God’s own heart.
Wrong. Jesus probably read Simon’s body language, saw him stiffen up, and intuited what he was thinking. Instead of giving him a lecture, he told him a story – about a man owed money. One borrower owed him 500 days’ wages, and another 50 days’. Neither could come up with the cash to repay him, so the lender “forgave” them both the debt. (Not a usual business practice! “Can’t come up with the mortgage? The car payment? The credit card minimum? No problem! We’ll reduce your balance to zero!”)
Nobody does that but God. We may be able to offer at least partial restitution for physical property stolen from another, but how can we begin to “pay the debt” of wounding others by hurtful actions or by necessary actions we left undone? We can’t spiritually pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We can only look toward and accept God’s mercy, and receive forgiveness as a free gift we never could have earned. The uninvited guest at Simon’s house who soulfully served Jesus and whom He warmly welcomed and accepted “got it.” Her overwhelming sense of gratitude welled up in a lavish expression of love for her forgiving Lord.
I have this medallion the ASPCA sent us. The design is a pawprint and the word RESCUED. When we picked up Bear, our rescue pup who is now a year and a half year old, her foster mother told us, “She’ll always know you rescued her and she’ll love you forever.” Even a pup’s gratitude shows itself as love. Shouldn’t ours??
So I wear this medallion not so much because we rescued Bear but because Jesus has rescued me. It reminds me that, as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians in the second lesson:
…[I]t is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live… I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Simon, Jesus’ host, was concerned that Jesus didn’t realize just who this woman was who was hovering near and ministering to Him. But Jesus did know who our anonymous friend was, and what she had done. He knew what Simon was thinking, too. He knows who we are, what we have done, what we are thinking. Regardless of our sin, because of our sin and our need for forgiveness, He invites us to His house, to God’s house, for this salvation meal of joy. Those who feel they are saints need not come. Those of us who know we are sinners find the red carpet laid out in welcome.
This courageous woman sought Jesus out and served Him, not to butter Jesus up, not to denigrate herself, but to thank Jesus and to serve Him with dignity and with lavish love. Luther says the only person who comes to the Lord’s Table unworthily is the one who either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t rue his or her sin. She knew her sin full well. Somehow she knew her Savior well, too. Our sister Anonymous loved lavishly, but she would have agreed that no love on our part comes even close to our Lord’s.
May we dance to the Table, ready to lay our sins at the Communion rail, at the foot of the cross, anxious to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood, ready then to exit through the Servant’s Entrance into the world, prepared to love lavishly and live generously. Remember that we, too, are “rescues,” and love accordingly. Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham