June 16 2013 Sermon
Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then 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 wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven– for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The Gospel readings for the rest of this Church year are from the Gospel of Luke and go in sequence, covering the ministry and teachings of Christ. It’s not cheating to refer to the bulletin inserts and follow along as we study this Gospel reading together. Today we will first analyze the Gospel text in detail, taking a close look at what it says, and then we will synthesize all its themes to see how the text comes to life in our lives.
Here, in Luke chapter 7, a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to his house for dinner. It says he reclined in the house of the Pharisee. Reclining on low couches was the customary position for eating a festive meal. In other words, Jesus was having dinner.
But why would a Pharisee invite Jesus? We usually think of the Pharisees as bad guys. Perhaps because they often disagreed with Jesus over the interpretation of Scripture. But the Pharisees were not bad people. More than any other character in the Bible, they represent us. They were the laypeople in the congregation. They were active churchgoers, in church every week without fail. They were deep into Bible study and kept the laws of God meticulously. They were intelligent, honest, hard working and religions people. They were faithful to their wives and good fathers who instructed their children, taught them the Bible, and brought them to church every week. They were looked up to as models in the town. Most Christians today in this country are Pharisees in their thinking and way of life and interpret the Bible in much the same way they did. So pay close attention to the Pharisees in the Bible for they mirrors that reflect who we are.
It was not unusual for Jesus to have dinner at someone’s home. God is fond of sharing meals with humans throughout the Bible. He had dinners with Abraham and Moses. This sort of table fellowship with Jesus included teaching the word and a meal. Remember the famous story about Mary and Martha when Jesus came to their home. This pattern of teaching and eating forms the basic rhythm for our worship today of word and sacrament.
In verse 37 we discover a woman sitting at Jesus’ feet. When she heard that Jesus was at Simon’s house, she rushed right over with an alabaster flask of myrrh to have Jesus forgive her sins. Our translations use the generic word “ointment” however the original Greek tells us specifically it was “myrrh.”
How did she find out about this dinner? People were talking, rumors were flying: “Jesus is having dinner at Simon’s house.” Imagine that today. Every Sunday morning Jesus comes here for teaching and a meal. Let’s spread the news? Rumor it around Aurora. I can already see the billboards: “Jesus Christ, today at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, will be forgiving sins from 9 to 10 am. Everyone invited!” Why not go spread the word?
Why did she bring an alabaster jar filled with myrrh? Remember, myrrh was one of the gifts the Maji brought to the baby Jesus. It was also what the women took to the tomb on Easter morning to anoint Jesus’ body. Myrrh was an expensive perfume or ointment used to prepare a dead body for burial. She brought myrrh because it was by Jesus’ death that her sins were forgiven. That is why in our Old Testament reading today we hear about the son David had with Bathsheba out of wedlock. He died. God took his life on account of David’s sin. The baby, who was innocent, died rather than David himself. The death of this innocent son, the firstborn of David and Bathsheba, points us to another son of David and Bathsheba, born several generations later. This other descendent of David and Bathsheba bore the guilt of our sins and went to the cross to die on account of our sins. By his death, we are saved!
The woman was weeping, with her tears raining down onto Jesus’ feet. Wiping his feet with her hair, as she kissed his feet and anointed them with the myrrh. Her sorrow was on account of her sins. Her tears showed her sincere repentance. Her kisses showed her love for him, and the myrrh shows that her sins were forgiven by his death on the cross. This was true worship. Not some flippant, frivolous, emotional experience, but sincere sorrow, repentance, and humble reverence for God. This is true worship.
When the Pharisee saw her, he thought to himself, “If Jesus were really a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this was touching him, for she is a sinner.” Here in the Greek it literally says he was “saying inside himself.” He thought these words. He didn’t speak them. His assumption is that Jesus would not let this woman touch him if he knew she was a sinner. He was measuring her behavior.
“Simon, I have something to say to you.” Jesus was about to answer his thoughts. This is really cool! Jesus knew what he was thinking. If he can do that, then he is a prophet. Therefore, by means of the thought that he was not a prophet, he actually proved he was a prophet. God used Simon’s thought to prove that the thought was wrong. I think God really does have a sense of humor.
Jesus answers his thought with a story about two debtors. One owed about $30,000 and the other $3000. The lender forgave the debts of both. Which one would love the lender more? “The one who was forgiven the most,” says the Pharisee. Quite correct, said Jesus. Jesus uses monetary language to describe sin and forgiveness. For example, the Lord’s prayer in the original language says, “Forgive us our debts.” And there’s the parable of the unforgiving servant who owed money to the king. The word “forgive” itself is a monetary term. Jesus used concrete monetary language to make an abstract concept like forgiveness more understandable.
Then comes the punch line: Jesus points out that the woman cried, washed his feet, kissed them and rubbed perfume on them because she loved Jesus more than the Pharisee. She loved him more because she had been forgiven more. The Pharisee, who liked to measure people’s behavior and didn’t think he was very sinful, did not give water to wash his feet, nor did he kiss them, nor did he anoint him with perfume. The woman, who had many sins, loved Jesus more.
So he turned to the woman and said, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Jesus absolved her sins. Now her worship is complete and her sins forgiven. It wasn’t because of her actions; or her tears, or her kisses. It wasn’t the way she worshipped him or her worship style, it was her faith that saved her. God does not judge us or measure us by what we do or say, like the Pharisee. He doesn’t even measure us by the way we worship or the music we sing, but by faith. God does not see some as better or worse. God sees only faith. He doesn’t rank or measure people, he only saves by his grace through faith.
So, how does this text come alive in us today?
Pharisees, like us, have a ruler to measure people’s behavior with. To them, religion is a matter of doing the right thing; behaving the right way; obeying the rules. As Pharisees, we have rules and regulations to live by. We know the Bible well, but often use it as a book of instruction for how to live; as a handbook for Christians to follow. We want to see evidence in your life that you are a true believer. That is not how Jesus saw the Bible and that was the main issue he argued about with the Pharisees about. We say things like, “How could she be a Christian and do that?” Pharisees, like many of us today, rank people as not-so-good Christian, good Christian, really spiritual Christian. In-as-much as we measure people by their behavior, and rank them, we are Pharisees. Today that is most Christians in our country. But God says in Mark (4:24) “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
However, the woman, like a former publican we all have heard about, came to church to confess her sins and ask for forgiveness, and she went home forgiven. On account of her faith she was considered righteous by God, more righteous than even the Pharisee (Matthew 5:20). But it was not on account of her behavior or how she lived or her worship style. For God does not measure us on the basis of behavior, but on the basis of faith. It is faith that saves and nothing more as Paul tells us in our Epistle reading today, “A person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Our behavior has nothing to do with it! Jesus tells the woman, and he tells us too, “Your faith has saved you.” Faith alone saves.
Here God tells us in the reading from Galatians this morning, “If righteousness were through the law, [that means through good works, obedience, doing what the law commands], then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal 2:21). God tells us Pharisees, “Who has bewitched you?…did you receive the Spirit by works or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for the righteous shall live by faith… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” We are not redeemed or counted righteous by what we do, or any sort of behavior, or living up to a set of standards. But only by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. We will go home today forgiven and righteous before God on account of our faith.
So, does this mean that God is lowering the bar? Does it mean that once we are baptized and confirmed he just overlooks our sin so now we can go do as we please? Is faith a free pass out of hell, so we can live any way we want? Or let’s ask, “After dinner, did the woman go back to town and keep doing the same things she had been doing before?” Absolutely not! She was repentant of her sin. She repudiated them and was putting them out of her life. She Loved Christ and couldn’t even think of doing those things again. She began a new life, as we do at the time of Baptism; an everyday pattern of death and resurrection; confession of sin and receiving forgiveness. Her story is a story of weeping, contrition for sins, and of resurrection joy on account of the forgiveness of sins.
Did she perhaps go buy a Bible as her rule book? No! She didn’t live by rules and regulations, she lived by love. She bought a Bible all right, in order to hear over and over again the story of how Jesus loved her and died for her sins. She loved Christ and her life was lived in love for him, not obedience to rules. From now on the motto of her life was what Paul says in the Epistle reading: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ now lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 3:20). Her faith was not a set of rules and regulations. She didn’t have a measuring stick to measure behavior. She merely loved God and served him with all her heart for the rest of her life. Her life abounded with good works after coming to faith that day. But not because she followed a rule book, rather because she loved God and couldn’t stop doing good to others.
Like her, your sins, which are many, have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. Amen.