Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Scandal Sheet

2 Samuel 11; Luke 7:36-8:3

Can you imagine the kinds of things the news media would have to say about the Bible stories we read this morning?
King David caught in adultery and conspiracy to murder. 
With his palace high on the hill, it was easy for him to spot a lovely young woman on a neighboring roof top, just a short way down the hill from the palace. We can imagine that he sent his men to entice the woman – or force her – how could she say no to the king? – to come to see the king.
Her husband was away at war, so her pregnancy was a problem. The only way to save face was to get rid of the husband by putting him where he was sure to be killed by the enemy. It wasn’t the press but a prophet who tricked David into confessing.
Like so many leaders – and regular citizens – David’s pride prevented him from seeing that his actions were sinful. He assumed he could get away with anything, because he was the king. Rather than righteous – right with God – David was self-righteous. To give him credit – and this is a main reason why he is considered the ideal king – he confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness. He sought to mend the relationship with God by confessing and turning toward God, even when caught in a sinful situation.
Both our left-wing and our right-wing press would have plenty to say about the event at Simon the Pharisee’s house, too. Sinful woman cries on Jesus' feet! Pharisee fails to offer hospitality to rabbi!
Jesus reached out to all people, even the Pharisees who only wanted to trick him into incriminating himself. When Simon invited Jesus to join him for a meal, Simon was a poor host – not even offering the customary foot washing for guests in his house.
Simon’s house, like many large homes of the day, had a room that was open to the street. It was customary for anyone who wished to stand around the perimeter of the room to listen to a speaker. A woman with a reputation as a sinner – it’s commonly assumed she was a prostitute -- was among those listening to Jesus. Overcome with emotion, she fell at Jesus feet, wept and let her tears fall on his feet, and then let her hair down and dried his feet with her hair. She kissed his feet, and massaged them with the ointment in her alabaster jar.  
What do you suppose the woman was thinking? I think she was comparing herself with Jesus and recognizing her sinfulness. Without a word, it seems she confessed and repented.
Simon, watching this scene, turned up his nose. “What kind of a prophet would let a sinful woman touch him so intimately?” he wondered, appalled at what he had seen. Jesus read his mind and told a story designed to catch him in his self-righteousness.
Returning his attention to the woman, Jesus pronounced her sins forgiven, and sent her off in peace. This, too, offended Simon and the other guests, as they mutter to themselves, “Only God can forgive sins. This Jesus has gone too far!”
Once again, when we study the story, we readily can see Simon’s self-righteousness, as he tried to appear righteous. He neglected to offer hospitality, an expectation for anyone in that culture, so his disrespect for Jesus as a person is also evident.
We don’t know if Jesus’ comments made any difference to Simon, but since the story ends with the sending of the woman, it’s probable that Simon did not hear the challenge and repent of his own sins.
Luke has told this story for many reasons. One of them is to make sure we get it that Jesus accepts all kinds of people, and wants them all to hear the good news and follow him. Then, to make sure we get it, Luke added the next comment: The twelve named disciples were not the only ones who followed Jesus from town to town. There were others, including some women who had been healed of various ailments by Jesus. These women included Mary Magdalene; Joanna, the wife of Herod’s chief financial officer; Susanna; and many others who used their own money to support the mission.
It’s hard for us not to judge others, but that’s what Jesus asks of us. It’s hard for us to accept that Jesus welcomes all kinds of people, including sinful women; including single women who join a band of male followers; and including those who judged him and put him to death on a cross. Who might sinful women and men be today? Those not like us? Us?
It’s hard for us to recognize and confess our sins. Oh, yes, we know some of them. We know we do or don’t do some things. But we aren’t aware of many of our sins. Using the sins prominent in today’s stories, when have we taken advantage of someone? When have we thought ourselves superior to someone else? Like David and like Simon the Pharisee we don’t always get it when we are being self-righteous instead of righteous.
It’s hard for us, recognizing we are sinners, to accept that Jesus forgives us. We are afraid, despite all Jesus’ promises, that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. We still want to earn it, pay for it with good behavior, and we fear our bad behavior will make God withhold it from us. We forget that Jesus is our righteousness and freely offers forgiveness.
And, it may be hard for us to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us. We like to tell the stories over and over again to keep the pain fresh in our hearts. We’d rather nurture our wounded pride and hold onto our pain instead of forgiving those who have hurt us. We forget that forgiveness isn’t about the other person; it’s about ourselves, and our relationship with God. It’s about letting go of hurts so we can focus more on loving and less on resenting.
Instead of harboring the pain, Jesus wants us to let the refreshing waters of baptism flow over us, reminding us that we are called to forgive as he first forgives us. God wants us to remember and take seriously that petition in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
It’s easy for us to judge David and say tsk-tsk. It’s easy for us to judge Simon the Pharisee and say tsk-tsk. But we need to remember that they are us, just as guilty, and just as forgiven. That forgiveness is God’s gift to us, undeserved grace, undeserved love.
In response, let’s commit to making the effort to forgive as Jesus forgives, to welcome as Jesus welcomes, and to love as Jesus loves. That is your challenge for the week. Instead of judging, try welcoming everyone you encounter as Jesus would. And try forgiving as freely as Jesus would.
Please pray with me. Forgiving God, we are so grateful that you overlook the wrong we do. Grant us your eyes and your heart to be more loving, more welcoming of all people. Ease the hurts in our hearts, so we may more readily forgive those who have hurt us. Amen