Luke chapter 7
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner." 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." 41A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 43Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, 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." 48Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks.
Um, the one crying and wiping your feet with her hair? She’s kind of hard to miss. She is not invited. She is not male. She is not behaving properly and she is not about to stop.
Luke serves us up a tasty story today. The ingredients may remind us of the stories in Matthew, Mark and John of a woman who anoints Jesus feet in his final week of life. But cleanse your palate of those stories. This one in Luke, set near the beginning of Jesus ministry has a very distinct flavor.
It reminded me of our Easter vigil in 2009. It was our first big event and I was nervous. I wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable. I wanted everything to go well and knowing there were going to be a lot of visitors I wanted us to look good. Then HE came in. Homeless, stinking of liquor and murmmering under his breath. He was not invited. He was not sober. He was not acting properly and he was not about to leave. The hope of everyone being comfortable and us looking good went out the door when it opened to let him in. And when I say he was not about to leave trust me on that. He stayed. He stayed through the readings and the litany and prayers and baptism. And then he stayed through the post-vigil dance party. At one point while our uninvited guest was actually teaching Judah some moves on the dance floor, Andie comes up to me and says “O my gosh. Do you think maybe that’s Jesus?” To which I replied, “yeah. I’m pretty sure”. Then when the dance party ended Jesus stayed to help clean up. We loaded him up with the left over crackers and bite size brownies and said farewell. We having been changed by an uninvited guest who loved much.
Do you see this man? Jesus asks us. I’m not sure, because sometimes our ability to really see others is hindered by our need for them to reflect something about ourselves. As though we don’t really see them as much as we see ourselves in relation to them.
In our Gospel reading for today, Simon the Pharisee, an upright religious man, has Jesus the prophet over for dinner. Perhaps Simon was wondering how Jesus might commend him for his religious observance. Perhaps he was preoccupied with how he was being perceived by his guests…with how this dinner party was reflecting on him …when SHE shows up. With her bangles and hair and smelling like oil. As though she has no shame whatsoever. As though she has completely forgotten what category of woman she is, she just barges in.
So Simon of the category “Pharasee” takes one look at this woman of the category “sinner” and thinks that Jesus must not be of the category “prophet” or else as the text says, Jesus would know who what kind…what category of woman is she.
Of course Simon’s absolute certainty about this particular woman’s sin begs the question “how DID Simon know what KIND of sinner she was?” Perhaps he has one hand extended to her in accusation the other hand extended in payment for services rendered.
It’s like if we had a dinner party for our version of Jesus wondering how he might commend us in our coolness and creativity and liberalness we sit in our jeans and ironic t shirts listening to Sigur Ros and eating sushi with Jesus. When SHE walks in. And ruins everything. SHE is not young. SHE is not cool. SHE is not behaving properly and SHE is not going to stop. Where will our progressive emerging church reputation be with the likes of this business woman hanging out here. With her Armani suit and hermes scarf and oil on her hands. As though she has no shame. As though she’s forgotten that she is of the category “BP executive” she cries at the feet of Jesus. And we have one hand extended to condemn the BP executive, while the other reaches again for artificially low priced unleaded. It’s what we do.
The important thing about knowing who the identified problem in a family or church or community is, knowing who the so-called “real” sinner is is that it conveniently keeps the heat off of us. Being clear about the taxonomy of sin is quite useful. It helps us know what Kind of people we are. It helps us know what kind of people they are while helping us determine our place in the spiritual meritocracy. But it’s hard to pull that off when people like Homeless Jesus Of The Dance Party show up and won’t stay in the category, “those less fortunate than ourselves” but instead insists on teaching us to dance.
It’s exhausting. Maintaining the categories of a spiritual meritocracy. Yet we use categories, however damaging they may be, to finally understand ourselves. We have internalized the very things that demean us, but somehow we cannot escape their siren song. We go back to them for comfort and assurance of who we are. We constantly seek the approval of categories who will never yield the kind of forgiveness and wholeness that we seek. Some categories we occupy are flimsy and can easily be escaped with time, distance, or a good bottle of Clairol. Nobody is forever sentenced to being seen as a C student in High School. But some categories are like enforced steel. Once you’re a felon or the winner of American Idol, or the guy who holds up the John 3:16 sign at football games you’re always that person to everyone you meet, and finally to yourself. Other categories are less visible. They are like little shrimp nets in our souls and were usually placed there when we were young. You can’t see them from the outside. They come from words like “you’re not straight enough for the church, you’re not wealthy enough to attract a partner, you’re not hip enough, smart enough, pius enough, thin enough or enough enough. These are the categories we spend our whole lives attempting through dieting, workaholism, sleeping around, drinking too much and therapy to prove wrong or prove right. Either way. It’s still bondage.
Do you see this woman? Jesus asks. The woman of Simon’s dinner party who showed much love as the uninvited guest…her whole existence and identity is bound in a reinforced steel category and yet she so clearly has escaped. TO behave with such bare and embarrassing physicality – to show such an elicit lack of restraint by covering Jesus’ feet with your tears and hair and kisses is to be nothing less than a free person. And free people are what the Gospel creates. So to say she is shameless is exactly right. Her shame given by others and reinforced by herself is gone …replaced by what is finally the only real category in the presence of Christ: that of forgiven, beloved, named and claimed child of the Most High God.
Because when we encounter Jesus, categories tend to be rendered useless. Instead Jesus says come to me you who are heavy laden with sin and shame and the bondage of categorizing and being categorized and I will give you rest. For only in the wideness of God’s mercy can we finally stop spiritually holding in our stomachs. Here we exhale with all the other forgiven sinners and broken saints and rest in the Grace of a God who claims us without category. Do you see yourself in that?