A sermon preached by Shelby Etheridge
Saint Mark Presbyterian Church
June 16, 2013
Right at the beginning of this story from Luke I find myself squirming in my chair, picturing the potential for awkwardness in this situation. An uninvited person walks into a dinner party with gifts intended for the guest, not the host.
The host, Simon, clearly does not welcome this woman. He judges her in his head, the same way we sometimes do when we’re thinking things we never could or would say out loud.
This evening feels sticky, uncomfortable; I’m self‐conscious just picturing it.
The fact that Jesus was invited to eat at Simon’s house says that their relationship was at least a cordial one, but we can’t help but anticipate the tension that is sure to follow.
We can’t help but anticipate tension when we look back on the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees that Luke has portrayed in his gospel so far. Distinctions have already been drawn between the way that the Pharisees do things and the way Jesus does things. But maybe Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t so different.
My New Testament professor Frances Taylor Gench told us in class that perhaps Jesus was a problem for the Pharisees because he was more like a Pharisee than anything else.
The Pharisees come from a long line of pious Jewish priests, who believed that the way they lived their lives was a testimony to their faith, and that faith was expressed by adhering to Jewish law. Jesus knew the scriptures but did not always follow them. He observed the Sabbath but sometimes healed or worked on the day; he was concerned about Jewish tradition but his life seemed destined to undermine it.
However different or similar they were, as Simon and Jesus demonstrate, neither Jesus nor the Pharisees were afraid to tell each other what they thought.
Here are a few examples:
In Luke Chapter 5, Jesus invites Levi, a tax collector, to come and follow him. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were unpopular because the payments that they took from people included large take‐aways for themselves. They were wealthy, but marginalized because of their trade (1).
Despite this, Jesus sits at a banquet with Levi and many of his fellow tax collectors, much to the displeasure of some Pharisees.
In Chapter 6, Jesus and his disciples pluck grain to eat on the Sabbath, although the book of Deuteronomy forbids working on that day. As unnamed Pharisees question their actions, Jesus counters their scriptural reference with his own, a story from 1 Samuel in which David and his companions were hungry, so they ate bread from the house of God, even though it was not lawful for them to do so.
Knowing the drama that has occurred between Jesus and Pharisees up to this point, I can’t help but think, “Hmmm, something is going to happen here.”
And something does happen. A woman, a sinner, enters Simon’s home unnoticed and begins to offer ancient signs of hospitality to Jesus: washing, kissing and anointing his feet. Can you hear Simon sighing when he notices that this woman, a sinner, has entered into his private audience with Jesus? Can you picture his face as Jesus allows this woman to continue touching his feet?
Commentator Fred Craddock draws another distinction between Simon and Jesus. Here are two religious leaders suddenly in the presence of a sinful woman. One has an understanding of righteousness that causes him to distance himself from her; the other understands righteousness to mean moving toward her with forgiveness and a blessing of peace(2).
Jesus’ posture is one of acceptance. This is what sets him apart. Simon is following the law, as he understands it; Jesus is reinterpreting the law, showing his compassion for sinners.
Jesus and Simon don’t have the same idea about how to treat this woman. This unnamed woman knew, despite whatever she had done up to this moment, she would still
be accepted by Jesus, that he would not reject her as Simon, and maybe even as the world, had rejected her.
Jesus tells a parable about debtors and creditors. Two people owed money to a creditor, one of them owed 500 denarii and the other owed only 50. Neither of them could pay, so both debts, though one was greater than the other, are forgiven.
In his story, Jesus gently offers grace to both Simon and the unnamed woman. Inclusive,
But before Jesus even says a word, the sound of the woman weeping tells us that something has already happened.
She already knows the power of his love and acceptance, of the grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus frees her, reminding us that freedom is a gift from God; this freeing grace lifts our hearts to the highest heights and causes us act with gratitude.
The grace in this text is in the sound of Jesus’ words, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” These words are spoken to a woman who had likely not been spoken to directly in a long time.
The smell of the ointment, an extravagant gift, is the scent of gratitude in response to grace. It’s in the touch of one human being to another, hands touching feet; one person offering hospitality and the other graciously accepting.
It’s in the sight of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, standing before a sinful, anonymous woman, and a sinful, prominent Pharisee; forgiving them both equally.
Grace is the taste of the bread and wine, a different meal that Jesus will later share in an
upstairs room with his disciples, when he promises them a new covenant, which will be for all people, for all of us.
It’s easy to see where grace is in this story; we know that anyone who encountered the living Christ must have experienced grace in so many different ways. We do not have Jesus Christ standing physically in front of us, but there are still ways I experience grace, with all five of my senses.
How about you?
I feel it in the squeeze of a hand, a friend sitting next to me during a time when I felt so alone. I hear grace when someone sees me carrying a heavy load of groceries and stops during their busy day to say, “Need a hand?”
I smell it in the flowers, fresh from the backyard that sat on my kitchen table as I wrote this
I taste it in a meal shared with the ones I love and see it every day as I attempt to walk the path God has laid before me.
And let’s remember that God is the source of this grace. Grace is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling; grace is radical. It’s God’s favor that we do not deserve, cannot earn, yet deeply believe and trust that we have.
Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” These are beautiful words, but sometimes hearing them is not enough.
Sometimes it’s not enough to hear the words, we have to experience grace and forgiveness with our other senses.
When we are baptized, or we remember our baptism as we witness the baptism of another—we see a visible demonstration of the assurance that God knows each one of us by name. When Roy pours water, we hear that as a reminder of God’s covenant of grace that is sealed in our baptism.
We taste grace at the table.
In the Gospels it was not the good and worthy whom Jesus invited to eat with him. It was the needy, the guilty, the sinners, Simon and the unnamed woman… us. We are invited to the Lord’s Table to receive nourishment for the new life we cannot give ourselves.
Theologian Shirley Guthrie (one of my favorites who you might hear me quote a lot) says that we experience God’s forgiveness, acceptance and love as we experience the forgiveness, acceptance and love of other people in the life of the Christian community.
We are a community of people who live by God’s forgiveness of our sin. We live in God’s acceptance of we who in ourselves are unacceptable. We trust in God’s love for us, we who know that we cannot earn the right to be loved.
We can recognize, experience and trust God’s grace everywhere when we first find it here, in the church(3).
Last summer I worked as a chaplain intern at Sibley Memorial Hospital, just down the road. It was a great experience. I treasured the chance to walk beside people in joy and in sorrow, to be there with them in the most vulnerable moments of a person’s life.
For a while after I completed my internship, I thought hospital chaplaincy was certainly where I was called. I looked at other hospitals and considered applying for a residency after graduation.
But when I returned to school, and to the church, I remembered what had brought me there in the first place: a community of people from all different places and at all different stages of life. A community of people who want to and are committed to journeying together, to worship, serve, love and live their lives experiencing and embodying grace.
We can recognize, experience and trust God’s grace everywhere when we first find it here. I pray that in my time at Saint Mark, we can find that grace together.
May it be so.
(1) Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. The Liturgical Press:
Collegeville, MN, 2000; 60
(2)Craddock, Fred B. Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.
Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.
(3) Guthrie, Shirley C. Christian Doctrine: Revised Edition. Westminster John Knox Press:
Louisville, KY, 1994; p. 325.