VIEWS: 5 PAGES: 7 POSTED ON: 11/19/2010
Luke 7:36-50 St James 13.6.10 This week on the Moral Maze, debating the rights and wrongs of public displays of emotion. Was it right that the people of Cumbria should have remained so apparently reserved in their grief? Were the media wrong to expect something more public by way of tears and mourning? The Moral Maze contributors seemed to agree that our society has come to expect us to wear our hearts on our sleeves since the public outpouring of grief over the death of Diana public grief has become acceptable - almost required. *** The church has answered this question very differently at different times: what place for emotion in worship? Should public worship be rational and wordy - as in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer or silent and poised - Quaker or Contemplative traditions? or emphasise penitence and obedience - in the Roman Catholic tradition or sensual and mysterious as in Orthodox traditions or should it aim for emotional expression and experience - Charismatic and Pentecostal traditions? I'm sure there is no 'right answer' to that question. But today's reading provides one answer, which is pretty disturbing, because, to be honest, it's just not very Anglican! So I want this morning to wrestle with this text - to try to work out why Jesus allows a hysterical woman to pamper his feet with tears, kisses and perfume in the midst of a respectable dinner party. *** Let's remind ourselves of the story: A dinner party at the house of religious ruler - Simon the Pharisee Jesus is the honoured guest reclining at the table. Had their sherry and nibbles, moved through to the dining table and sat down to eat. All looking good for a successful evening. 1 *** But somewhere out in the dark streets of Jerusalem an unnamed woman of doubtful character hears that the preacher is in town She finds the house of Simon the Pharisee and lets herself in not uncommon for people to drop in when a Rabbi is visiting and the likelihood is that the meal took place outside in the courtyard of the house. Nevertheless: she comes in uninvited and stands at Jesus' feet. Has has met him before, but we can only guess what happened. But now, once more in his presence the emotion wells up within her and great drops of tears fall from her face onto his feet. She falls at his feet. It seems she had intended to anoint them with perfume from the little vial around her neck which every Jewish woman wore But Jesus' feet were now wet with tears She's made a mess - and somehow, she must try to clean up. But with no tissues to hand, she loosens her hair - an outrageous act in that society with her hair she wipes her tears from Jesus' feet pours perfume onto them and kisses them. I imagine the rest of the table one by one going silent as they gaze in horror at what is unfolding looking in astonishment as Jesus allows this wretched, sobbing woman to touch him in this way. *** Jesus knows what Simon the Pharisee is thinking. "If this man were a prophet he would have known what sort of woman this is and who is touching him - that she is a sinner." So he responds to this unspoken thought by telling Simon a parable - about two debtors. 2 One who owed 500 denarii, and one who owed fifty. Their lender cancelled the debts of both. Which would love him more? Jesus asks. Simon answers: "I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.". Jesus answers, "You have judged rightly". *** Then Jesus turns towards the woman, and says this to Simon: "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven— for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." *** What is the contrast that Jesus is drawing here between the woman and the Pharisee? It's true that by any standard, the woman in this story is simply a disgrace, an utter embarrassment to Simon and his dinner guests. But Jesus is pointing out that by the standards of mere social respectability, her behaviour is still better than his. Because Simon, in inviting Jesus to dinner - whatever his motives - showed no desire to welcome Jesus to dinner. The basic acts of hospitality expected in Jesus' day were absent A host was expected to place his hand on the guest's shoulder and greet his guest with a kiss; to offer water for washing dusty feet and to anoint his head with a fragrant oil often derived from roses. These actions would never have been omitted in welcoming a distinguished Rabbi. But Simon seems to have treated Jesus like a bit of curious baggage. *** When we welcome people to our homes in this culture we might offer to take their coat offer them a cup of tea, or something stronger invite them to sit down while we serve them 3 If you imaging being left standing in the porch, left to find a seat for yourself left sitting in your outdoor coat not offered a drink that's the kind of treatment Jesus received. *** So the contrast Jesus is drawing is that this woman at least provided the welcome that Simon had failed to offer: the kiss the washing of feet the anointing with perfume *** But he draws a greater contrast between the two: 41"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[ a] and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?" The implication is that the woman has been forgiven more - or at least she is more aware of how much she has been forgiven: Simon, by contrast, thinks he has little to be forgiven. And Jesus seems to be saying; "Look, your love for me will be in proportion to your awareness of your need for me." 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little." *** Fair enough. How well do we know our need of God? How well do we know the extent of God's love for each of us? The answer to that, Jesus suggests, is plainly visible in the way that we respond to God. Perhaps if we, like Simon, appear to love God only very little, it is a reflection of how little we feel ourselves to be loved by God. 4 And if our response to God is somewhat cool this story is not a criticism of us but simply an invitation to find ways to steep ourselves in the truth of God's love for us to 'work on' our image of God - perhaps with the help of a spiritual director, who is trained to help us to spot those false images of God we carry around with us and help us towards a truer image of the God who is love. *** But there is a more disturbing implication of this story - the suggestion that Jesus takes the woman's great emotional outpouring as evidence of her love. No doubt it was: but does this mean that we must all show our love for God in the same way? Does Jesus' attitude here support the current trend towards more open emotional expression in worship? Should we all throw in the towel of our reserved, western Anglicanism, and join in the dancing like Desmond Tutu or all become weepy charismatics? Do we need to reconsider what we mean when we say "You shall love the Lord your God?" Is God really looking for a bit more heart and soul from us? *** What Jesus is commending here is not the worthy, stoical, self-sacrificing love of the parent who gets up four times in the night to tend an ill child. Jesus seems to be applauding our modern conception of love, as an emotional outpouring in response to a strongly felt attachment. A woman who appears uninvited weeps hysterically falls on Jesus' feet wipes them with her hair pours perfume on them and kisses them This is not the macho love of Peter and the disciples: "Lord, even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." This is a gushing, charged, heedless act of devotion spontaneous, unreserved, risky, and desperate. *** 5 Where does this leave us? Should we be dashing off to the nearest charismatic church, to sing heartfelt love-songs to the Lord? Should we be seeking out our African brothers and sisters, for some dancing in the aisles? Does God want us to let our hair down a bit more often? Is there something we should be learning from our heart-on-sleeve culture? *** Perhaps. But maybe the crucial characteristic of the woman's response to Jesus was not her gushing emotion - but the disarming honesty of it. I've found that, strangely, people are not embarrassed by public displays of emotion when it is an honest response to circumstances like when I blubbed my way through a best-man's speech. It is the hired mourners at Jairus' house for whom Jesus has no patience wailing one minute, laughing at him the next he throws them all out. *** And it seems that challenge for us in our worship, is to try to keep our emotions honest Really poignant moments are few and far between they don't come on tap. The danger is that we remember some powerful experience in worship tears are flowing, cheeks are glowing We try to recreate it. the worship leader who knows just how to pull our emotional strings the preacher who has learned to let his voice crack the storyteller who knows how to serve up a tearjerker. And before we know it - church has become yet another place which wrests an emotional response from us demanding that we respond in a particular way whether plastic smiles, or glycerine tears. *** 6 Last week at Edinburgh 2010 conference I sat listening to an old Catholic nun from the NE giving the homily on the Saturday morning on the theme of repentance. Her delivery and appearance was slow, matter of fact, wordy, deliberate. There was nothing dynamic or charismatic about her person or her delivery. For the first few minutes she kept repeating one simple phrase. God only loves, as the sun only shines. x2 And in response, I sat there with tears streaming down my face. *** Those who know they have been forgiven much, love much. 7
"13th June Much Forgiven Luke 736"