As we enter in to today’s Gospel text, we enter into the midst of a prominent social event thrown by a leader of the Jewish community. Luke tells us that Jesus has been given an invitation and accepts it, setting the tone for the events that take place next. It isn’t one of those stories where Jesus is interrupted as he makes his way down the road, or caught off guard by a group of skeptics who question his teachings. As we are told in our opening verse, Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.
We can assume that those joining Jesus around the table are most likely more prominent members of the Jewish community, and that through the manner of their invitation given to Jesus, it’s pretty clear that he’s to be the center of the conversation, with the hopes of learning more about him. But just as the conversation begins, in walks a woman who as Luke describes, is one who had lived a sinful life. And unlike that of Jesus’ presence, her presence was not in response to an invitation. She’s a disruption to the evening. She stands beside Jesus weeping with a jar of perfume in her hand, wetting his feet with her tears, and then proceeds to wipe them clean with her hair, kiss them, and anoint them with her perfume.
As maybe we would expect, those sitting around the table are a bit taken back by the women’s actions, but interestingly, not for what she has done… interrupting their dinner before it has begun… but because of who she is, a sinner. And adding to their discomfort, was Jesus’ reaction, not casting her away, but embracing her presence. “For if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”
Jesus responds with an analogy about debt. He turns to Simon and asks the question, “Who do you think will be more grateful, a man whose debt of five hundred denarii was cancelled, or one whose debt of fifty?” Simon’s response? “The man whose debt is greater of course.”
With this analogy, Jesus helps us to enter into the life of the woman. We are never told what her sin is, what exactly she has done in order to be outcast from her community or to be labeled as “a sinful woman”. What we do know, is that whatever her sin is, it is great. And that in order for her to come to the feet of Jesus, wiping them clean with her tears, her need for forgiveness is equally as great. “But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
In his commentary on today’s text, Philadelphia Seminary President David Lose, writes, that “forgiveness at heart, is the restoration of relationship. It is releasing any claim on someone else for some past injury or offense. Forgiveness cancels relational debt and opens up the future.”
This is the point within my sermon, that if Tim were here, I’d be asking for forgiveness for my sermon for not sticking with the theme for the weekend, and would have to explain myself at next Tuesday’s staff meeting, with the subtle reminder that even as Lutherans, we have to be open to the Spirit’s guidance.
This weekend here at St. James, we are lifting up the current refugee crisis happening around the world by welcoming the Rev. Paul Erbes from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to preach at our worship services tomorrow morning and to lead an open forum during the Sunday school hour. With this, I should be preaching on the refugees as well… but there are those times, as a pastor, when what happens during your week dictates your preaching, and those times when the Gospel text doesn’t allow you to escape it.
In the time in which our biblical text was written, women were just about at the very bottom of the social scale. Throw in sinfulness, and you’re there. No one to care for her. No one to provide for her. No one to love her. Consumed by guilt for the sins she has committed… left all alone to manage the consequences of her actions…
It’s probably safe to say that emotionally speaking, many of us here tonight, have, at one point or another, found ourselves in the place of the sinful woman from today’s text. Where we have done something, or a sequence of things, that have forced us to the feet of Jesus, begging for forgiveness with our tears, knowing all too well that we don’t deserve it.
The good news of today’s text, and of all the Gospel for that matter, is that we get it, regardless of if we deserve it or not. Hopeless, consumed by sadness and remorse, brought to our knees by the weight of our guilt, with no strength to come to our feet by ourselves, Jesus proclaims, “Your sins are forgiven.” Your sins are forgiven…
If you’ve been here for some of my more recent sermons, you’ve heard me mention briefly, the heroin epidemic permeating throughout our community. Just a fair warning, you’re going to hear a lot more about this from me in the days ahead. For the past two weeks I have traveled back and forth from Gettysburg to Wyomissing, just outside of the city of Reading, to visit one of our historic Lutheran church’s, Atonement Lutheran, to participate in the life of an addictions ministry called Common Ground.
Led by ELCA Pastor, Tom Scornavachi, a man living in recovery himself, Common Ground is a living example of Jesus’ message portrayed in today’s gospel text… where people completely broken by sins committed, outcast from their community and many from their families as well, and desperately seeking forgiveness and love, receive exactly just this in the form of a faith community centered in Jesus Christ, hearing the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”
This past Thursday evening I attended an open forum over at HACC put on by the Adams County Heroin Task Force, where I sat and listed to people just as broken, just as desperate. Mother’s who have lost their children, young adults who have lost their siblings, school and government officials seeking to find an effective response with insufficient funds and resources.
If I’m honest, I couldn’t help but feel a bit hopeless myself in the midst of the discussion. So as I sat, I prayed, and I listed to the deeply personal life stories of people from our community here in Gettysburg. And I as I prayed and listened, I began to ask some questions to myself.
What is our role as church living in a world where drug and alcohol related deaths continue to rise to record numbers? How are we called to respond? As we face an epidemic for which we are told by the powers that be that there aren’t enough resources to manage, of a disease that we are told there is no cure, what is the church to do?
I don’t know why Luke neglects to name the sin of the woman in today’s gospel text, but maybe that’s just the point. That the sin itself, whatever it is, doesn’t matter. In our humanness we tend to rank the level of sins committed. We say to ourselves, “Well, I might have done this, but at least I didn’t do that.”
If we look to Jesus, and his reaction, it isn’t about the specifics of the sins committed that’s important, but rather the response to them. “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” “Your sins are forgiven.” “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It isn’t about our sins, our failures, or our shortcomings, but how we respond when these things happen, both on our part as well as on the part of others. Christ calls us to respond to sin with love and forgiveness, leading by example in giving us love and forgiveness in the most perfect of forms.
When Jesus says, “Your faith has save you”, Luke uses “sozo” for save in the Greek, in the form of the perfect tense. The faith of the women saved her in the past, while at the same time creating a future state of being saved in the in the days ahead. Through her faith, she has been saved past, present, and future. We hear this same promise echoed in our Epistles text from Galatians for this week.
We are saved by grace… we still sin… but through Christ living in us we are made new beings. May your hold onto this promise of forgiveness in the times you feel undeserving. May it fill your heart with the love made true in Jesus Christ. May it restore you in times of brokenness, and release you from the burdens you carry. May it lead you to the feet of God with tears and hear the words, “your sins are forgiven”. And may it guide you to be a sign of such for those who enter into your lives in need of the same. AMEN.