Do You See Her?


Luke 7:36-8:3
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster. Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.
Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher, speak,” he said.
“A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty. When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”
Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”
Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Soon afterward, Jesus traveled through the cities and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom. The Twelve were with him, along with some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses. Among them were Mary Magdalene (from whom seven demons had been thrown out),  Joanna (the wife of Herod’s servant Chuza), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me;
let there be peace on earth,
the peace that was meant to be.

With God our creator,
family all are we.
Let us walk with each other
in perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, may this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live each moment 
in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

"Let There Be Peace on Earth", Publication date: 1989. Authors/Composers: Jill Jackson, Sy Miller; Copyright date: 1955. Assigned to Jan-Lee Music, © renewed 1983. United Methodist Hymnal #431.

Let’s imagine we’re all back in elementary school and it’s show and tell day. I have brought with me my copy of Gospel Parallels, a very handy Bible study tool. Some of you may not know, and I didn’t know myself until I attended seminary, that the four gospels share stories, only a couple appear in all four versions, while many are shared between three of the four: Mark, believed to be the oldest, and Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as a source for their own writing. Since they have so many stories in common, they are often referred to as the “synoptic gospels.” What this book does is lay out the different versions of a story in columns, so that you, the biblical scholar, can compare them side by side.

Today’s text is one of only a handful to be recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Using this tool, I quickly see several differences:
Matthew and Mark place the story within the Passion story of Jesus- so it has a different context in his timeline. 
John’s timeline is after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead- but importantly, Jesus interprets the action as pointing toward his death. So while the timeline is different, the context is the same as Matthew and Mark.
Matthew, Mark and John all locate the story in Bethany, near Jerusalem
Matthew, Mark and Luke all locate the story in the home of Simon. In Matthew and Mark he is identified as suffering from a skin disease.
Only in John is the woman named- Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus
The disciples are angry at the wasted expense in Matthew, Mark and John
Mark and Matthew emphasize the timelessness of the woman’s gift: “What she’s done will be told in memory of her.”
OK what’s unique about Luke’s version?
It’s relatively early on in Jesus’ ministry, so it is not connected to his Passion
Simon is a pharisee, not suffering from a skin disease
The woman is unnamed, but her profession is strongly hinted: we infer she is a prostitute
Jesus tells a parable about forgiveness during the episode
After the story, Luke begins Chapter 8 with a reference to other women who supported Jesus’ ministry. They are not identified as disciples, more like benefactors. One of the women named is Mary Magdalene, who Luke says was cured of seven demons. Because of this connection to the anointing story preceding it, lazy Christian commentators have often assumed Magdalene was the woman in the story, so since Mary was healed of something she must have been a prostitute. But there is no evidence anywhere in the scriptures to this idea. Mary Magdalene is expressly named as one of the woman at the tomb on Easter morning. In fact it was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus said, “Go and tell the others…” effectively ordaining her to preach. I am required to give this disclaimer every time this particular story is proclaimed.
Now let’s put away the show and tell book and deep dive into Luke’s version of this anointing of Jesus by an anonymous woman. 

Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus over to his house for dinner. Before the meal can even begin the woman comes in. She is identified as a sinner and breaks an expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus's feet. She washes his feet with her hair, crying over them. The kissing of feet is associated with expressing gratitude for pardon, so this woman has experienced God's forgiveness. This is her response to being forgiven. Simon thinks to himself, “Well if this man really were a prophet he would know what kind of woman is touching him.” Simon does not understand that Jesus has the power to read minds. Jesus tells him a parable about a certain lender who was owed money by two different people- one had to pay 500 people and the other had to pay 50 people. When they couldn't pay, the lender forgave the debts of both debtors. “Which one of them will love the lender more?” Jesus asked. Simon said “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Correct! Jesus says. 

Then Jesus turns and gestures to the woman who is still lovingly washing his feet with her tears. Do you see this woman? When I entered your home you didn't give me water for my feet- basic hospitality in biblical times- and yet this woman has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn't greet me with a kiss- again basic hospitality- but she hasn't stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn't anoint my head with oil but she poured perfumed oil on my feet. So yes, her sins are forgiven, a gift of God to her that matches her gift to me. She has shown great love. The one who loves little is forgiven little. And then Jesus speaks directly to the woman, pronouncing her sins forgiven. Later he adds, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Do you see her? Do you see her as children of God, made in the divine image, worthy of respect?

Simon is a Pharisee a religious leader and yet he is unable to understand what God is doing in his own home. It is clear from his thoughts that Simon does not see the woman at all. Instead what he sees is her profession. She is not a daughter of God- she is a sinner. Let’s assume with Luke that this woman is a prostitute.  Simon condemns the woman, but he does not ask the broader question which is why is she a prostitute in the first place- what compelled her to go to the margins of society? The question about seeing the woman reveals how blind Simon actually is because he does not see the love at work in her gesture. He has no capacity to appreciate the deeper significance of this gift being offered. Jesus says those who have been forgiven little, love little. She has received much forgiveness and so she expresses much love. 

Do you see her? Do you see her as children of God, made in the divine image, worthy of respect?

Simon is a religious leader, but can only express self-righteous contempt. He does not recognize his own sinfulness and need for divine forgiveness. He cannot embody the extravagant forgiveness of God as his uninvited guest does because he has excluded himself from God's grace. The woman knew she was a sinner and needed forgiveness. Now she knows what it means to be forgiven and receives the gift of new life. Whereas the woman shows absolute, transparent humility before God and others, Simon can only show his incapacity to love.

Today is peace with Justice Sunday in the United Methodist Church. It’s a day to ask questions like why do people live in such circumstances as the woman in the story? It's a day to see people as they are, beloved children of God and not diminish them because of their place in society. It’s a day to not only see people but to act to make peace with justice a reality for all. Last Sunday here at Grace we were engaged in peace with justice ministry by writing letters to Congress to end gun violence. Today perhaps a good way to observe peace with justice ministry is to look inward and ask ourselves how are our perceptions of others revealing the brokenness in our own lives? How are our attitudes reflecting our need for forgiveness? Too often we are so focused on the other and we've not done the internal work to allow ourselves to participate in God's grace and forgiveness.

On Friday, Christy and I went to Little Rock to pick up our son who was at an immersion experience at Hendrix College. Before we picked up Miles, she and I stopped off at the museum across the street from Central High School. Now if you were born in 1950 or earlier you know that school. If you were born as I was a generation later, the events that happened there in 1957 were hopefully taught in school. If you are a student in today's history classes in many states around the country it's quite likely that this story has been erased from your books. 

Following the landmark Brown versus the Board of Education ruling in 1954 schools in America were ordered to be desegregated. Little Rock took baby steps to make the desegregation happen. They decided to start in 1957 at the high school level and desegregation would trickle down over time into middle school and elementary school. In September 1957 nine African American students tried to enroll at Central High School in Little Rock. Days and weeks of protests by white people followed, condemning integration. This picture here shows protestors with signs saying the integration was the work of communists. I won't mention what the young boy’s sign says, however it's very clear from the language on his sign that the arguments of everyone else in this photo are not based on some kind of states rights objection. Many of these signs proclaim a Christian connotation- one of them says integration is unchristian. Anyway the exhibit in this little museum tells the story of these teenagers, who walked through protesters, protected by the National Guard. One of the girls, I didn't write down her name unfortunately, said that as she was walking past her eyes met the eyes of an older white woman who kind of nicely looked at her. When she looked back at this same woman she spat on the student.

Do you see these students? Do you see them as children of God, made in the divine image, worthy of respect?

Now I'm not trying to make anyone feel ashamed although I would say shame is an appropriate response to how these students were treated. But on Peace with Justice Sunday it's important for us to put ourselves in the stories of others. We must ask ourselves how would we react if we were there. What kept going through my mind as I walked the exhibit yesterday was: what if I was that 10 year old kid in this picture holding a sign? What would my sign say? What it have been a message of hate and condemnation? Would my sign have said Peace with Justice? Would your sign say, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me?” If we had a important dinner here at the church and uninvited guests who were were pushed toward the margins of society came in, what would our unspoken thoughts be? And what would Jesus's response be to those thoughts?

One of the first prayers the early Christians prayed was, “Lord Jesus save me, a sinner." If Simon had prayed this prayer instead of condemning the woman it would have a totally different dinner party. It would have revealed a heart humbly asking for forgiveness, ready to be transformed by the grace of a loving God. If the signs of  the crowds in Little Rock in 1957 simply said, “Lord Jesus save us sinners.” We would remember the events of those days very differently. The gospel calls us to break down barriers between people and not build them. If someone else built those barriers the gospel calls us to tear them down- not to reinforce them. As we grow into mature disciples of Jesus may we honor and celebrate the love of God when it is being revealed in such extravagant ways as it is in the story of the woman with her costly perfume. As we we grow into mature disciples of Jesus, may we first condemn the sin in us before looking to others. And may we all remember that none of us has yet achieved what John Wesley called perfection. This means that we are all on the journey toward being renewed into the image of God and that is a lifelong commitment that requires self-examination over and over and over again. 

Do you see her? Do you see her as children of God, made in the divine image, worthy of respect?

The social principles of the United Methodist Church call us to love our enemies, to seek justice, and to serve as reconcilers of conflict. Wherever we are- at home or church, in the community- when an unexpected guest arrives, may our hearts and thoughts reveal who we really are. And beyond our thoughts, may our actions show us to be people who are living out the faith that saves us, walking in the peace of Christ. In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit amen.