Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Who is at the table?

Luke 7:36-8:3
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
June 16, 2013

All of the commentaries and sermon starters I read this week implied that the gospel text is focused on women. How ironic on Father’s Day. Sorry guys you’ll have to see if the text treats you better next year.

Yet, I wonder if God would want us to see these texts or any texts as focused on a specific gender? Do you think? Do you think that one teaching of the bible has more to say to women than to men? or to men than to women?

What if the question or call of the biblical story isn’t necessarily to be a man of God or a woman of God but a disciple of Jesus Christ? No gender designation needed. I know, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. I know that there are differences between men and women. But I wonder if we genderize (I made that word up) I wonder if we assign gender to passages of scripture to the detriment of our daily life as people of God.  You know the old saying: what is good for the goose is good for the gander? What is good for the gander is also good for the goose.

So let’s see what this passage might have to say to us as men and women of God as disciples of Jesus the Christ, shall we?

There are two people in this passage a man and a woman. At first it would seem that the woman trumps the man in her devotion to Jesus. But I would like to submit that both Simon the Pharisee and the unnamed woman are people who are trying to follow Jesus. And receiving from Jesus the grace and help they need to do it.

Let’s first look at Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. Who invited Jesus to dinner! Before we get all high and mighty and offended by this poor Pharisee let’s cut him some slack. He did invite Jesus to dinner.
When was the last time you invited a homeless person to dinner?

In hindsight the Pharisee might be ashamed of the way he treated Jesus; but at the moment he was inviting a street preacher who was being followed by a group of 12 men and some women who were providing for his means. Hear again the end of the passage:
Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

This is the Jesus the Pharisee was inviting to his home. When was the last time you invited a homeless man into your home and washed his feet, kissed him in greeting and anointed his head with the oil of gladness?
Let alone a man who had 12 men and an assortment of women from all walks of life following him as if he were, well God incarnate or something?

Yeah, me neither.

And even more, he invited Jesus to his home for dinner with other guests! Let me read the verse at the end of the passage: But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  There were other invited guests. So Simon wasn’t trying to be like Nicodemus, all secretive about his meeting with Jesus. He was openly and honestly inviting Jesus to dinner.

For some reason, maybe because Jesus feet were especially dirty, maybe because he was lazy, maybe because he didn’t see the need, Simon decided that this particular dinner was going to be a more casual affair. He didn’t treat Jesus like he would a truly honored guest. He didn’t get out the bowl of water to wash Jesus feet, he didn’t produce the oil that would have expressed pleasure and welcome at the company of Jesus, Simon didn’t even greet Jesus with a kiss of welcome.
In Middle Eastern countries that is what you do when you meet someone you want to welcome into your ‘space’. You kiss them, we give out handshakes, and they kiss each other’s cheeks. Not just once but on each side and then again.

In other words, Simon decided to treat Jesus and this meal casually. Nothing fancy, nothing special.  
For us it would be like the difference between setting our table using paper napkins instead of ironing the linen napkins. Or the good china and the everyday plastic stuff.

Simon was going casual. And no one seemed offended. Even Jesus simply took his place at the table. Until…

Simon allowed a woman from the other side of the tracks, so to speak, to enter his house!
Simon opened his door and allowed this unnamed woman who happened to be in town and knew that Jesus was sitting at Simon’s table into the dining area.
Simon was a hospitable man! And he wanted to know more about this Jesus.

And it is the woman who teaches Simon what he needed to know.

Now I find it ironic, in this story filled with ironies, that this woman is given no name, just a description, a sinner. From this description commentaries and biblical interpreters have assumed that she is a prostitute, a woman who brings shame to the neighborhood and is whispered about in the dark corners of a room.
But all we are told is that she is a sinner and truth be told, that description applies to each and every person sitting around that table, except for Jesus.

This nameless woman who represents the entire dinner party, changes this casual dinner into a banquet. With her expensive perfume, her oil of anointing, her tears of cleansing and her act of gratitude she fills the room with all the ceremony and honor that should have been given to Jesus as soon as he entered the house.
 While the rest of the room shifts uncomfortably in their seats, coughs and avoids looking at the woman, Jesus perceives their distress and discomfort, probably their body language is enough to give it away. Jesus didn’t have to use any special powers to figure that one out.
So he asks them: If you own someone 5,000 dollars and someone else owes the person 500 dollars and the person forgives both your debts, which debtor is going to be more grateful?
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”
You are right, Jesus answered. This woman has been forgiven many, many sins and she is showing her gratitude.

Now Jesus didn’t say to Simon or any of the others in the room, you are ungrateful prigs. No, he offered them all a part in the story. Do you owe a little or do you owe a lot. You call this woman a sinner, but you do realize don’t you, you are all sinners?
And I am telling you, Jesus says, you are all offered forgiveness.
If you have a lot of debts, a lot of things on your plate that you are ashamed of, they are cancelled. If you have a little debt, just enough to make you feel less than good, they are cancelled. Even if your sin is self-righteousness and failure to name your own sin while calling someone else sinner: Cancelled. It is all Cancelled. Forgiven.

Those at the table asked the right question. Finally, someone asked the right question: Who is this who can forgive sins?

I would think by this time, everyone in that room would have realized: we are all debtors, we each in our own way owe so very much and we have not sought out forgiveness nor expressed the gratitude that would reflect the amazing gift that forgiveness is in our lives.

And so the question is: who is this who can forgive sins?

And the answer: This is Jesus, savior, the merciful one, the guest in our homes, the one who sits at our tables each and every day.

Are we welcoming him into our lives with gratitude that is minimal or with gratitude that reflects the amazing, amazing guilt free life that we have been granted?

Who is this who forgives my sin? Who is this that forgives the worlds sin? Who is this that forgives your sin?

Each morning we are given the opportunity to open the doors of our lives, to welcome him into our lives, to greet him with the oil of gladness, the kiss of peace and to feel the waters of our baptism renewing us again and again as we live as forgiven people.

God’s people.
Who is this who can forgive sins? He is the one who sits at our tables and invited us to sit alongside him. He is Jesus.

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