A Reason for Praise
Luke 7: 36 – 8:3
Sunday June 12, 2016
Rev.L. Bryan McClain
The day started out as a fun and exciting adventure. All four kids were excited about their trip. Mom who may well have decided to go it alone as dad was either employed or deployed elsewhere, or maybe he was even out of the picture all together and mom, doing her best to give her kids some sense of normalcy in an otherwise tumultuous time, loaded up the kids and headed to the City zoo in Cincinnati.
It all started out all right. Everybody is laughing and having a good time. The three year old is just so excited though. He doesn’t want to stay in his stroller, he wants to be like the bigger kids to get out and go and inspect.
It looks safe enough the mother figures and lets him out but reminds him to stay close by. They reach the primate enclosure, and the kids want a picture in front of the exhibit. Mom stops to pull up her camera and frame the shot and focus the lens and in looking thought the lens she discovers that the excited little three year old is not in the picture. How often does that happen?
She calls for him and looks for him and he does not respond? How often does that happen? Especially when there is so much to see? Suddenly she begins to panic, what if someone snatched him?
That was always our worry everytime we went into the Walmart in Culpepper with Nancy. She would slip away out of our sight and go and hide in the ring of hanging clothes, playing hide and seek; only she didn’t tell us that was the game and, the next thing you know, Steph and I are freaking out. Stephanie nearly in tears; me I’m ready to kill whoever snatched her. And so we go to the front of the store panicking, telling the person at the customer services desk we have lost our little girl. And she gets on the intercom and calls out for Nancy McClain. And in a few minutes a little girl strolls up and wonders what all the fuss is about.
Only on that day at the Cincinnati Zoo, what started out as her worst fear moved beyond an abduction to something unimaginable. Her son had fallen into the Gorilla exhibit. The mother quickly calls 911 and tries to remain calm for her son, until she watches in horror as Marambe the Gorilla begins to drag her son up and down the man-made creek.
And for the next ten minutes, which probably seemed more like ten hours, she would have to simply hope and pray that her son would survive this ordeal, in which she could do absolutely nothing.
Imagine the feeling of elation, the shear joy, not in the killing of the Gorilla, but in being able to wrap her arms around her living child once again.
Here is a truly grateful woman, who was simply more thankful for the zoo officials sacrificing one of the their most prized animals for the safety of her son, than to be concerned about how the zoo could ever let something like this happen, or how much she could get out of it. She had her boy back and that was enough.
How do we give thanks for what God has done for us? How do we give praise to God when God rescues us? Or someone in our family from some form of self-destruction or worse?
Or do we often think like the Pharisee in the story read today, that we do so much for God that what little God does for us, it is really God who owes us and not so much we who owe God?
You see, this is really a tale of two tales: On the one hand we have a woman, who is noted as a sinner, a harlot, a person with a soiled past and is therefore unclean and who should be avoided at least in public. And on the other we have the well, respected Pharisee, whose seems to have quite a following of his own.
We are told that he has invited Jesus to his home for a dinner, and you would think that an invitation would entail all the extra little acts of hospitality that would go along with being invited, such as a form of greeting, or an offer to clean your feet. In ancient Israel and it may well be the case even today, a host who invited someone to their house would greet their guest with a kiss on the cheek, back then they would also offer a bowl and a towel to allow their guest to wash their feet. They would offer an anointment of oil for a blessing.
None of these things did the Pharisee, who we learn is named Simon, offer to Jesus. Which tells us something we don’t see printed in words. He really does not like Jesus. He shows no respect, no kindness other than an invitation to a meal, which now begins to look more like a trap.
The whole situation even before we are introduced to the woman has already been an embarrassing one, not for Jesus, but for the Pharisee, because he has already shown himself to be a haughty, thankless, and thoughtless person.
On the other hand, when we meet the woman who is uninvited. And that was quite common in those days in Israel, that people would show up to a dinner party uninvited, not so much to be fed, but to catch a glimpse of or hear words of wisdom from a prominent person they want to see or hear.
As we begin to move into the awards seasons with all of the celebrities making their red carpet debuts and appearances, you may notice that they and the media are not the only ones there, but in the background are all of the adoring fans who are there to just catch a glimpse or perhaps to get a chance to be noticed by their favorite star. That is what the woman was doing. She wanted to see Jesus.
After the uninvited, unclean woman begins to create something of a scene by crying as she comes up behind Jesus. Her tears are falling onto his feet. And she stoops down and lets down her hair which is forbidden to do in public, and she begins to wipe them down. Then, as if that is not enough, she breaks open a jar of her best perfume and she pours the oil over his feet and then wipes them again with her hair. And again if that was not enough, she begins to kiss his feet.
What a scene of excessiveness, what a measure of exuberance. It would seem almost embarrassing and for some of us it just may be, if we just can’t imagine being that thankful.
Because, you see, that is exactly the way the Pharisee felt. First of all he doesn’t even believe Jesus is a prophet, which reveals his real reason for inviting Jesus into his home in the first place. It is not to befriend him but to expose him for the fraud Simon thinks that he is.
He is not thankful at all for much and certainly not to Jesus. As far as he was concerned, Jesus had done nothing for him. His life did not need saving, he was a well- respected man in a well-respected position.
Nobody had given him anything so far as he could recall, he worked his way up the ranks, doing all of the politically correct things he had to do to get there.
As far as God was concerned, it was as if God owed him. After all, he was serving as a Pharisee giving due diligence to tradition, no matter what he believed, which by the way did not seem to be much.
So it is when he begins to think to himself that Jesus is no prophet as he watches this sultry woman flaunt herself all over Jesus, that Jesus interrupts his pious, self-righteous thinking. In doing so, Jesus initiates the first conversation between he and his host. Ironic isn’t it?
Jesus calls Simon by his first name, again, Ironic. And he poses a little riddle, “A certain lender had two debtors one owed a heck of a lot of money, and the other while owing a lot, did not owe as much as the first. But neither of them could pay their debt, so the lender, out of the kindness of his heart, decided to forgive each debtor their debts. Which of them will love the lender more ?”
The Pharisee, realizing he needs to be very careful how he answers the question responds cautiously, so as to avoid getting himself caught in a trap. “I suppose the one who had the larger debt.”
And as you might hear on Family Feud, Jesus basically says, Good Answer! And Simon is left to think for just a moment that he has avoided whatever trap Jesus had planted for him.
But then Jesus turns to the woman who has just anointed his feet. And he begins to lay out the case, that Simon, though having invited Jesus into his home as a guest, had treated him as an uninvited guest. Though he claimed to be thankful that Jesus was there, was really not thankful at all.
And the woman, though she was not even invited, much less someone who could host Jesus, she treated Jesus more than an honored guest, she treated him as one who should be worshiped, as one who should be praised.
Her reason, somewhere in her past, Jesus brought to her salvation. Maybe she was the woman who in a story told in chapter seven, Jesus had raised the son of a widow, like the woman in last week’s sermon from 1 Kings, whose son had died, and Elijah had brought him back to life.
Maybe she was the woman who had been brought to him by those Pharisees and ready to stone her because of her lifestyle, but he had saved her. Or maybe she could have been one of any number of women who had been stepped on and stepped over by the rest of society because she didn’t come from the right family, the right background, or the right race. Or maybe she had been raped and the attacker got off with nothing and she was left to pick up the pieces of her life.
Whatever the case, Jesus had gone out of his way to save her, to recognize her, to offer her hope in a hopeless situation.
But you see, the problem here is not that she had more to be thankful for than the Pharisee. The problem here is that the Pharisee, for all of his education, for all of his privilege and in fact probably because of it, he could not see at all why he needs to be just as thankful. He is as oblivious to God’s grace in his life, as we are to the millions of stars right above us in the day time. He just didn’t see it, nor did he see this coming in the end of this riddle.
The woman was guilty of sin in her life, she was well aware of it. Laws were made to make her and everybody else aware. To find someone who would forgive her, and truly offer her that second chance at life and by that I mean allow her to live in and be in community once again. That was like drinking fresh cool life giving water in the middle of a desert.
The Pharisee on the other hand. Though he had broken no written laws, though on paper he was as clean as a whistle, he had manipulated, connived his way, stepped on and stepped over people like this woman and used them.
In today’s world maybe he would use his powers and influence to step above and beyond the laws and protocols meant for safety and protection and then deceive others thinking it was no big deal.
Or maybe he would use his wealth and influence to set up a fraudulent corporation or maybe a university and scam people out of their life savings only to get richer himself. No laws broken here, but ethics and values go down the toilet.
Oh people like that are grateful, just not that much, and truth be told, they believe they got where they are thanks to no one but themselves.
Jesus points out to Simon the Pharisee that the woman whom he was so quick to judge and condemn even if it was silently in his mind, had been forgiven so much more than he himself had. Her response to this life giving, life altering grace that had swept in out of nowhere and renewed her life, if she could have found a way to express it even greater than she did, she would not have hesitated one minute to do so.
The Pharisee on the other hand, has also been forgiven, but in his own eyes, he does not see the need for such forgiveness, especially from someone like Jesus. To him, Jesus forgiveness is about as useful as a donkey in a horse race.
When we open our eyes not so much to the measure of grace given to us in Christ Jesus but to the fact that we need just as much as the woman in this story, as much as God has been willing to give us, then we naturally become more responsive in our giving back.
The passage puts it like this: Jesus says to Simon: “Therefore 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.” (Luke 7:36)
Let me say that another way: For those who open their eyes to how much they need God’s love, will in fact respond with much love, because they will in fact receive God’s abundant love.
But for those who don’t think they need forgiveness or God’s love, they will respond only to what they think they have received, which is very little, if at all.
The question I pose to you this morning is which one of these characters do you see yourself as?
The Pious, respectable, educated, influential Pharisee, or the woman who was unfortunate enough to find her life filled with God’s grace?
Or, as I put it in a modern-day scenario; are you more like the grateful mom whose son was saved but she faced ridicule because her three year old son in an instant got away from her, or are you more like that criticizing public who thinks they know it all?
Trust me when I say that the way you see this is seen by God in the way you give back.
Whether it is to your church, or to the greater community in general.