Monday, June 17, 2013

GOSPEL READING                     Luke 7:36-50

Part 1

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.”

Part 2

40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41“A 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.”

Part 3

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.”

GUIDED DISCUSSION AND MEDITATION: “She Has Shown Great Love”

There are three parts to this story, one story framing another story, and we’ll meet a total of six characters. So this guided discussion and mediation is divided into three parts.

I.

The dramatic event is established as the first three characters are introduced in the first four verses.(Congregation was divided into 3 parts. Individuals were asked to focus on just one character–the person assigned to their section–as the first four verses are read aloud again.)

Then individuals in each section of the congregation were invited to share what they had learned about their character:

GROUP 1:  The Pharisee

GROUP 2:  The woman

GROUP 3:  Jesus

GROUP 1 (Pharisee) responded:

  • The Pharisee wanted to host Jesus.
  • We’re not sure of his motives.
  • He doubts Jesus’s authority as a prophet because he apparently didn’t know the woman’s reputation as a sinner.He seems disdainful of her and doubtful of Jesus’s authority as a true prophet.
  • His criticism of the woman is not spoken aloud.He says it to himself.

Follow up question for more reflection:

*How do you picture him reacting?  What expression is on his face.  What is his body language?

GROUP 2 (Woman) responded:

  • The woman was known as a sinner and is being judged by the Pharisee.
  • She was there to see Jesus.
  • She is weeping—but we don’t know why.
  • She is doing something quite dramatic and beyond the bounds of custom in a display of . . . love, sorrow, contrition, petition, desperation, gratitude?

Follow-up question for more reflection:

*What emotion or back story might you have imagined in her expressions and gestures?

GROUP 3 (Jesus) responded:

  • Jesus’s only action was to respond to the Pharisee’s invitation to dinner.
  • He apparently permits this lavish, extreme show of devotion, unfazed.

Follow-up question for more reflection:

*Does he just keep eating, continue conversing, as this woman walked in off the street and performs this uncustomary act?

As I now read aloud that passage again, listen with your eye. Maybe you can see more details you hadn’t noticed before:

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.”

II.

Within the story of the woman called a sinner, Jesus tells a brief story.  It suggests several things.  Simon has invited the renowned, itinerant rabbi to his home to hear more about his teachings—perhaps to “test” him or perhaps to learn from him. This section gives us a glimpse of the kind of conversation the woman’s actions interrupted.  Some scholars classify this part of the pericope as a “symposium” story, a recognized literary genre in that period which featured a table conversation at a banquet. (Bovon 1989, 386; Steel 1984, 379-94, qtd in Tannehill, 134).

In this symposium story we hear a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisee.  We’ll now learn the name of the Pharisee and hear him address Jesus directly.  The woman, who has been the actor in the story, now disappears from the focus of our attention.  And we meet three new characters: a creditor and two debtors.  As usual, Jesus doesn’t debate theology. He tells a story.  Listen to Jesus:

40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

Remember Simon the Pharisee did not speak aloud his disapproval of the woman, though Simon must have been visibly displeased with her.  The Pharisee was hoping Jesus would speak to the woman and ask her to leave.  Instead, Jesus wanted to speak to him. “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

Ah.  At least Simon was willing for the teacher to speak to him. And Jesus does:

41“A 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.”

Again, Simon the Pharisee did not speak aloud his criticism or doubts about Jesus’s authority, but we know he thought that if Jesus were a true prophet, as some were claiming, he’d have known the woman was a notorious sinner.  Interesting that Simon never considered the possibility that Jesus (and everyone else) knew her reputation but Jesus didn’t care.  If you recall the Pharisee’s doubt about Jesus as prophet, wise proclaimer of truth, then you also see the author’s use of irony here.  Jesus is able to “read” Simon (maybe not his mind but his attitude) because the story Jesus chooses to tell responds directly to Simon’s unspoken accusation against the woman.  In telling this story, Jesus is telling Simon, “I see what is in your heart, too, Simon.”  The readers understand that Jesus is a prophet—one who knows Simon’s unuttered concern and who probably understands this woman better than Simon.

The parable ends as Simon answers correctly so that Jesus can then affirm Simon’s ability to see the truth. I almost hear Jesus thinking, “You have judged rightly, Simon—in the parable of the creditors—even if you have wrongly judged her and me. Yes.  Now you see, Simon.”

So upon what action is the teacher focus?

“Who loves?” rather than “Who sins?” is the pertinent question to Jesus.

Jesus has recast the woman from sinner to lover. Luke is not concerned about telling us what her sin was, by the way. We never know, though many over the centuries assumed it was a sexual sin.

The story within the story does tell us this.  The woman’s motivation for anointing Jesus’s feet and carrying on so extravagantly is the love of someone forgiven of debts.  The woman came to express the love of someone Jesus had previously forgiven.  For the narrator of Luke to rename her sins in this story would be to violate the principle that her debts have been wiped out. True forgiveness doesn’t mean you can forget a past wrong done to you, but it does mean we relate to that person without maintaining a ledge of past infractions and holding that past infraction against them and making them continue to pay for it.Sometimes we need to remember what someone is capable of doing—to protect ourselves and others. But we can guard against future harm even while offering grace and letting go of accusations our heart makes against past “sins” against us.  The “sinner” no longer “owes” us for a past debt.

III.

In the story’s conclusion Jesus astonished the Pharisee by exalting this woman who has been kissing his feet.  Simon had wanted her chastised and banished. Jesus extols her magnanimity while exposing Simon’s own deficits of customary hospitality.  What a contrast:

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.”

And so we come to the end of the story of “The Woman Who Showed Great Love.”

Love is something we show and do more than what we feel.

Pause to consider a way you might show/do love this very day.

Silence.

As people of faith, what is the connection between faith and forgiveness?

Sometimes we don’t live as if we have been forgiven.  We don’t really believe that about ourselves. If we have moved on from a past mistake or injury we’ve done—have truly made amends and have truly learned from that experience and have done all in our power to reconcile with another—we can put that behind us and live into our identity as lovers, not sinners.  In faith, see yourself as a lover, not a sinner.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus Christ, Lover of All, help us see ourselves as you see us.

PRAYER STATIONS

Prayer Station 1: Forgiving

Today and every day you have the chance to forgive and be forgiven. If your intention is to accept forgiveness for a particular action or attitude, come forward to signal your commitment to make amends, if possible, and to “move forward” with a renewed spirit of grace for yourself and others.  The pastor will place a fragrant ointment on your hand to symbolize sweet forgiveness and will speak a blessing. There is grace enough to forgive all.

Or if your intention is to forgive another for a past hurt, come forward to signal your commitment to extend grace to that person. Forgiving sometimes takes a long time, but this can be a step toward releasing the hold a spirit of unforgivenness has on you.  Forgiving does not mean you condone an action or that you can forget it.  It means you will no longer be controlled by it. The pastor will place fragrant ointment on your hand to symbolize sweet forgiveness and will speak a blessing.

Prayer Station 2: Gifts for giving

We are made for giving.  We don’t buy God off. We give out of love and joy, not to settle debts.  Forgiven people are generous because they understand the priceless gift of grace and want to be gracious. Go and add some of your fragrant ointment to that offering plate! Your offering helps us all be part of God’s reconciling work in the world.

Prayer Station 3: Receiving the bread and cup

A traditional  liturgy for the Eucharist includes these words of Jesus: “This is the blood of the new covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Silently reread words to the meditation hymn printed on page 1.  Then move forward to the altar.  The pastor will serve the first person, that person will serve the next, and each person will receive and then offer the bread and cup to the next person, a picture of giving and receiving forgiveness.  The pastor will receive last.

Category Forgiveness, Prayer, Scripture
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