a homily for Proper 6C
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3
The Awkward Dinner
If I were to ask you to name a person, living or dead you’d like to have over for dinner, after hearing this story, I’m guessing you wouldn’t say “Jesus”. Jesus makes a lousy dinner guest for the faithful. The people that need help or are ostracized: those people get love from Jesus. Guys like Simon, the Pharisee get a different companion.
The text doesn’t give us Simon’s motives for inviting Jesus over for dinner. We know who he wouldn’t invite over. He wouldn’t eat with someone below his station. Purity laws and customs forbade it. So Simon sees Jesus as something of an equal.
Which means he seems to be completely ignoring the woman that is on the ground, sobbing, and wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair. I’m not sure how he does this. We’d be distracted. If we didn’t want her there, we’d have her kicked out. If we wanted her there, she’d be sitting somewhere. If we wanted her near the table, she’d be serving or eating at it. She wouldn’t be on the floor, like a dog.
We can also sense a certain hostility in this conversation. Simon impugns Jesus for this woman’s presence. Jesus, meanwhile, responds to the man’s spiritual immaturity. It is all quite the odd dinner. Put in the right hands, this scene could make quite an excellent short film.
There’s something more to this, something in the composition that is revealing.
Eating and the Law
If you remember from last week, we’ve been exploring this section of the gospel we call Luke as growing out of this sequence of calling and naming the apostles and preparing them for ministry. It is a quite bold storyline.
In the middle is the curious argument about the Sabbath. I believe that this is a central moment in the text and directly informs what we’re talking about here with this man sitting at the dinner table and this woman beneath it, washing Jesus’s feet.
At the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees for allowing his people to pick heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. He responds with a story that may as well say “man, you have the wrong idea about the Sabbath.” This is followed by Jesus going to a synagogue. Inside, and in front of a whole bunch of people, a man with a withered hand approaches Jesus to be healed. Jesus is warned that it is improper to heal him. Jesus does it anyway. [For more about this story, click here.]
In both of these pieces, Jesus flaunts his breaking of Sabbath law, but more over, He breaks it with witnesses. Witnesses who would be cheesed to see such a thing. It is purposeful, willful, and antagonistic. And if you think Jesus is a meek lover-not-a-fighter, then you need to reconcile that Jesus willfully broke what amounts to canon law in front of people knowing they would catch Him.
The Blindness of Winning
Today’s part of the story is shortly after that moment and seems written for precisely that confrontation. Except that we aren’t talking Sabbath any longer, but ritual purity and the patriarchy. Jesus gives a teaching about love and commitment, but the elements of the narrative tell a bigger story. This powerful man and this powerless woman. He is getting a little respect and she is getting His love.
He isn’t giving anything to Jesus, obsessed with the physical and the situational. If Jesus really were a prophet, He would know better. It’s logical that the debtor who owes more would be more grateful. And those at the table with them, who were probably men, make the same conclusions: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” These are details that distract them and keep them from seeing the humanity of the woman in their midst. They, like we, obsess with the metaphysics and the rules and the systems and the how-does-it-works while Jesus is too busy actually seeing this woman to care about those puny details!
He gives this woman honor in the midst of these fools who cannot see her, which is where we would end the story, confident in that redemption, but Luke continues by saying that Jesus moves on, followed by his apostles and a whole bunch of women. And not just any women, but women who have been redeemed. Which, in this culture, meant redeemed for, to put it bluntly, being women. And women who are his benefactors. Jesus isn’t just going to the outcasts and healing them or hanging out with them in His downtime. He is traveling, ministering with them. And they make it possible. Jesus doesn’t need the rich and powerful like Simon to fund His ministry. He has the women.
A Loser Rebellion
What a fitting text for Father’s Day, isn’t it? Guys, Jesus doesn’t need you because He’s got the ladies! it seems to say. The story, however, is about who is in on this mission with Jesus. The rich and powerful are used to being in charge of things, but Jesus doesn’t let them be in charge over GOD. This is crowd-sourced and crowd-funded. It is of and by the people.
How often are we like Simon, who cannot see the woman, or regard her? As Michael Danner writes this week,
What is more clear, however, is that Simon needed this woman to be and to remain a sinner. Why? In order for Simon to be “Simon the Pharisee”, he needed this woman to be “this woman the sinner.”
We want to judge and make faith into a competitive sport with winners and losers. We want losers so that we feel like winners.
But Jesus loves the losers and regards the winners as already “having their reward.” Isn’t it also clear, however, that Jesus regards Simon as a loser as well? That our own ignorance and mean spirits make us losers and in need of Jesus’s love?
This radical movement that Jesus is creating is not for the successful, but the broken. Those broken by a cruel world and an unjust society. And those broken by their place in maintaining the world’s cruelty and the injustice of society. That any and all of us, may approach in humbleness that we aren’t doing things right and we need help.
When we do this, we might be ignored by society or each other, but Jesus will see us.
- The scandalous character of ministry (drewdowns.net)