02 February 2009

another unexpected response

we continue to read the book of Luke in chapel. Luke 7 tells the story of how when Jesus was eating at a Pharisee's house, a woman came in and poured perfume on his feet. when i imagine this story, i see Jesus sitting amongst all these rich and important and holy people and somehow out of nowhere this woman comes up and starts pouring perfume over his feet. since weeping (and the snot and tears that go with) is messy and noisy, not a person in that room would have missed what was happening. and the Bible notes that there was rumbling going on in response to what was happening - ‘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.’ (Luke 7:39 NRSV) a different gospel notes how expensive the perfume was - one wonders what kind of sinner she was to be able to afford that kind of present.

and as the tension has built up, Jesus turns and says to the Pharisee who invited him in: "Simon, I have something to say to you." and Simon's response is "sure, please speak." i expect that, knowing the type of woman this was who was interrupting his important gathering and who was currently weeping messily over his honoured guest's feet, Simon thought Jesus was going to humiliate this woman. that Jesus would confirm his condemnation of this sinful woman, to get angry at her for making him unclean, and put everything back to how it was. but Jesus (once again) did not respond as might be expected.

first Jesus asks an unrelated question - a question of who would love a creditor a most? he who had had a debt of 1.5 months salary cancelled or he who had had a debt of 1.5 years salary cancelled? and Simon, probably puzzled at the question, gave the obvious answer - the one who'd received more grace.

and then Jesus turns and humiliates Simon. he points out that the woman had given him a great gift in washing his feet - and Simon hadn't even bothered with the common courtesy of having a servant come wash Jesus' feet. Simon hadn't given him any oil to refresh his head, whereas this woman had poured expensive oil on his feet. and this woman, who Jesus acknowledges had sinned greatly, has had her sins forgiven. and Jesus then turns to the woman and tells her that - that her sins are forgiven. and then again "your faith has saved you, go in peace." (Luke 7:50)

and the story turns our expectations upside down. it puts the sinner above the holy one. it puts the poor lowly woman above the rich important man. and it is obvious that Jesus cares for those who are oppressed. and that is one of the reasons i like this story. but i have to be careful not to like the story too much so that i miss the shocking, unexpected part of the text: that not only Jesus' words of grace to the woman apply to me - but also the words of challenge given to Simon.

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