Sunday, February 23, 2014

Luke 7:36-50 Salvation is more than Forgiveness, it's Restoration.

This is a long post: This is the transcript from my first sermon from Saturday, February 22, 2014.

Luke 7:36 -50

“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “if this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly.” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The word of the Lord.

This particular story from Jesus’ ministry has always been dear to my heart. As a person who doubted God’s love; seeing the compassion and forgiveness Jesus gave to this woman, gave me the hope, like the prodigal, to come back to God, after I turned away from Him so many years ago.  

So today, I would like to unpack these verses, but my focus is on this woman with the perfume bottle. I wanted to dig into this passage and discover any clues that would point to who she might have been.

Each of the Gospels was written to reach a specific audience; each account records the life and ministry of Jesus, but each has its own character and feel. For example Matthew’s Gospel emphasizes how Jesus’ fulfilled Old Testament prophesy, Mark’s Gospel was meant to explain the crucifixion of Jesus to Roman citizens, and John’s Gospel highlights Jesus as the Way, Truth and the Life, but also the Word, the Eternal Logos.  Luke’s Gospel was written to the promote Christianity to the Greco-Roman world.

Although there are different arrangements of the words and ministry of Jesus, in these verses we are reading tonight, I would like to propose that these events were put in order by Luke for a very specific purpose. 

Now let’s see if we can uncover who this woman in this passage really was.

A great way to uncover the meanings of verses is to look at the verses preceding your target.  What was going on just before Jesus went to this banquet?

Luke places a visit by the disciples of John the Baptist, who ask on behalf of John, who was in prison, the question of whether Jesus really was the Messiah of Israel, the anointed one, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) and Luke 7: 21 reads,  “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.” The answer Jesus gave to John’s disciples was for them to report what they had just seen.

Verses 29 and 30, show us the reaction of the people in the crowd were Luke records: “And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him [John], the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.” 

Then Jesus speaks, in verses 31-35 words that could only have been addressed to the religious “in-crowd” of his day, when he says the following words:
“To what, then can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon,’ The Son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners…’”

Then he finished with the enigmatic statement “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

What is he talking about? What children?

This verse has puzzled me for a long time. So I decided to figure it out!

Wisdom’s Children, is an idiom used frequently by Jews of Jesus’ day.

To help to understand what is meant by this, listen to a short passage from the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon, a book written sometime between the late 1st century BC to early 1st century AD and most likely by a Jew who lived in the Hellenistic city of Alexandria, in Egypt. 

This is a bit of a prayer asking God for the gift of his wisdom. 

Wisdom of Solomon chapter 9 begins this way:

“Oh God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, you have made all things by your word, and by your wisdom have formed humankind to have dominion over the creatures you have made and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by your throne…” Wisdom 9:1-4

N.T. Wright in his book, Paul and the faithfulness of God: part III, writes “To speak of this ‘wisdom’ is, after all to speak of the creator God as good, wise, fruitful, utterly and beautifully creative and inventive…” (p.671) 

So these children of Wisdom that Jesus referred to, were all those who recognized the ministry of Jesus: All of those who confessed their sins and were baptized by John and then recognized Jesus’ ministry, ushering in the kingdom of God.

But what about that woman with the perfume bottle?

Look back at the verses we read starting with verse 36. There is a banquet hosted by Simon the Pharisee. Then this woman is identified in the text as a “woman who led a sinful life”.

The word “sinner” here could mean many different things; for example a person dedicated to a sinful way of life, or a specifically sin-stained life (like that of a tax-collector.)
Many have read into this verse that this woman was a prostitute; and I admit that that was the first thing I thought of; but digging deeper, in Luke’s recording of Jesus’ parable we know as the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:30,  in the words of the older-brother, the word that is specifically translated in older versions of the Bible as “harlot”; the Greek word porne which is used specifically to refer to a prostitute. 

That word is not used in our passage.
 So it seems that, yes, this was a woman who fell into the same category as Roman tax-collectors, BUT whatever this person’s sinful life involved, it was NOT prostitution.

What is strongly suggested by the placement of this dinner party, after Jesus’ strong words against the religious powers of his day, is that this “publicly sinful woman” has had prior acquaintance with John’s ministry of repentance and baptism. 

The emphasis is on those who recognize the ministry of the Kingdom of God, announced by John the Baptist, and ushered in by Jesus; and all those who did not.

These were “Wisdom’s Children”; those people who were following first John, and then following Jesus; the people excluded from religion of that day, people who were hungry for God’s mercy, people who wanted to know if God loved them, people who wanted restoration to God’s kingdom.

Back to the woman with the perfume: So when this woman heard that Jesus would be at the house of Simon the Pharisee, I believe she wanted to show honor to Jesus; perhaps for his teaching, perhaps she might also have been in the crowd of those whom Jesus healed…or perhaps for simply giving her hope that God really did love her, a sinner, someone unclean to the important people in her village. 

But before we go further…Let me take a small excursus to explain some rules of etiquette in the Roman Empire among Jews of the Second Temple in Jesus’ day. 

The host of a banquet would provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests, provide the ritual purification of water for the hands of the guests, and even oil to anoint their heads, representing the oil of gladness, and finally to give the now refreshed guest a kiss of welcome on the cheek.

Another thing about these sorts of banquets, is that they may have been held in rooms where persons in the village could watch and listen to the conversation; possibly as if it were an open air classroom for the community, or at least for the host to show off his hospitality; something very important in the culture of that day.

So this woman, who hears that Jesus is going to be at this banquet, planned to honor him in some way; scripture says she went home and got an alabaster vial of perfume.

With others from the village looking on, she witnessed the way this synagogue official, this Pharisee was treating Jesus, a person who had brought hope into her life; Jesus who was being deliberately insulted by these important persons; honor was so important during this age of the Roman empire, shaming could ruin your whole life.

But she didn’t know that Jesus took no worry for his reputation, yet could it be that she was embarrassed for him? Or outraged by his treatment? We don’t know, but we have her reaction recorded by Luke.

So as one who had no honor in her community, she showed Jesus the only honor she could, by giving to him the ceremonial courtesy that Simon, the Pharisee withheld.

The woman could not reach Jesus’ head to anoint it, (he was reclining head towards the table) but she could reach his feet. Kneeling behind Jesus, crying; I imagine she saw her tears leaving dark streaks in the dust still on his feet. She would not want to anoint his dirty feet; so in humility, takes her unbound hair and wipes his feet clean of the dust of the street, kisses his feet, then takes the precious ointment in her hand and gently anoints his feet.

Then verse 39 reads: “When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Of course, I imagine Simon’s “said to himself” was more like muttering under his breath, yet audible to all those sitting around him “If he were a prophet…!”

I imagine her head jerking up, starting to rise to her feet, hearing the muttered put-down, and realizing what she has done by putting herself forward into the judgmental gaze of her neighbors and the religious leaders of her village, reclining on low couches around the banquet table...but Jesus halts her with a hand to her shoulder, as he addresses his host.

“Simon” Jesus spoke, “I have something to say to you”.  Simon responds “Teacher, speak.” Jesus now tells a short parable, 

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty; when they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”

Now here is the important point to understand: Jesus publicly restores this woman to full community, when he says to Simon, all at the banquet table, and the rest of the village listening in the background:

 “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus did not only talk about what the kingdom of God was like in the Sermon on the Mount, he gave visible lessons. In the ordering of the miracles and words of Jesus, Luke is showing us who Wisdom’s children are; the “fruit” of his ministry: the healed, the over-looked, the cast-off human beings who all thought there was no hope in this world for them. Jesus brought healing: physical, mental, and as important, a restoration to community: with God and with their fellow human beings.

Forgiveness here, for a woman ostracized by her community, in the midst of a honor/shame culture, meant she could participate with others in the market place, be accepted by her neighbors, she could have been someone who was offered forgiveness through baptism by John, or healed physically as a part of the crowd following Jesus, but now she was healed by her restoration as a full member of her community.

She was Wisdom’s Child. A child of the King, a member of the Kingdom of God.

Here is a prisoner of her culture who now has had the door of her lonely cell opened, the light of Christ has shown on her, and has set her free from the despair of a life as a cast-off.

When we repent before God, the same gift of grace is given to us. Jesus speaks the words “Your sins are forgiven” opening our own prison cell of bondage to sin and sets us free, and gently brings us into a community of other Christ followers.

In the Gospel of John chapter 15:6, we are all told to “bear much fruit,” the fruit of Wisdom’s children; children who go out into the world proclaiming the good news of their redemption and healing, to other lost and broken people, the lonely and cast off of the world. 

The Good news that they can be restored as we have been restored, not only to God’s presence, with the forgiveness of our sins, but that they can join us in become full members in community; the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Redemption by God is more than just forgiveness of sin, it is restoration. Jesus’ final words to this woman were “Go in Shalom.” Go in wholeness, go in peace.

No comments: