Given a name of my own
A sermon draft...
Gospel: Luke 7:36 – 8:3
One 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.’ 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 cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44Then turning towards 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.’
8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
Think about this story: there's a Pharisee. We hear about this Pharisee four times in the first four verses. It's impersonal. And we hear about a woman of the city who was sinner. She interrupts his important formal dinner party. We know it's formal because the Greek text says they were reclining. And when the story was first told, people knew that Pharisees would have nothing to do with sinners…
So we are being invited to relax into our prejudices; that is, we are invited to prejudge the situation: here is a dreadful sinner woman bursting into the home of a righteous man, and acting in an outrageous manner. Anointing someone's feet and wiping them with your hair, is still, today, something we would think of as intimate bedroom behaviour.
Now that the story has our attention, it can begin to school us.
First of all, what is a sinner?
When we think about it, we usually attatch some kind of moral overtone to the word sinner: sex, drugs, stealing…
But at its most broad definition, a sinner was someone who did not fulfil the law of God. Which means most of us— in fact the bible says all of us— are… sinners.
And some of these sins were hardly what we would call "moral" sins.
You didn't tithe your dill and cumin exactly? You sinner!
You spent two minutes checking your personal email on the office computer? You sinner!
You checked your phone at the traffic lights because, after all, nothing was going to move for at least three minutes? You sinner!
We all know some sins are more important than others are, don't we…. and some of them… well, they're not really what you'd call a sin…
When it says "a woman of the town, who was a sinner," it doesn't mean she was the town prostitute, which was what some people conclude. What it means is this: she was a woman who'd had her name and her life taken away from her because everybody else had decided to define her as… "a sinner." Wherever she went, whatever she did…
that's all they saw: a sinner.
You're a young person who arrives sick and delirious at emergency: all they can see is that you're doing drugs.
You're an old bloke in the street who's a bit shaky because you slipped and banged your head: all they can see is that you've lost your marbles.
You're an old lady… so you must be deaf, stupid, and probably don't understand anything other than scones and knitting…..
Whatever it was that got people upset at this woman, whether she deserved it or not, being called a sinner defined her, prejudged her, and took away her freedom and her identity.
And maybe this woman had done nothing bad at all: my sister broke down in tears once because, as she sobbed to my Mum, "at school they just call me Andrew Prior's sister." You can understand why she was crying, can't you…. but jokes aside, can you see what was happening?
They took her self away from her. She was defined. Even her name was taken away from her. That's what we do when we call someone a sinner.
And at its worst, calling someone a sinner is really to blame them for stuff to excuse our own sins.
"I know I'm not perfect, but that woman…!!
"I'm not racist, but…."
The Pharisee is right into this. He's disgusted with the woman. And he's very disappointed in Jesus: "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."
And there's a joke here, because Jesus is more than a prophet, and he proves it by showing the Pharisee he knows exactly what the Pharisee is thinking!
But the whole story also changes here. When Jesus speaks up, all the prejudice stops. All the prejudging is finished. There is no longer a Pharisee… there is just Simon. He asks Simon a question. And it's Simon … who gives an answer.
There is something complicated happening to Simon here. He's beginning to see the woman for the first time. Instead of a sinner, he's beginning to see … a person. That's why he says "I suppose…" It's like when someone is beginning to realise they've stuffed things up in a major way: "Well I may have said something a bit like that… I suppose…"
Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet—
that's basic hospitality in Jesus' world: water to wash your guests feet. But Simon was so busy being a Pharisee making a big impression at his feast, that he forgot the basics— or maybe he was prejudging Jesus and making a subtle insult—
Simon… 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!
Do you understand why she has done this, Simon?
… her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.
But you are so sure of your piety and goodness you have not let God into your heart and discovered just how much you have been forgiven.
… the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.
Until now, Simon has only seen a sinner, not a person. And Jesus, who I think the story suggests had already met this woman, and treated her like a real person, reassures her.
"Yes, your sins are forgiven."
He gives her life back to her. He sees her as a person, not a sinner. He says "Go in peace… go in shalom… in all the peace and goodness and love of God." —
…. what was the woman's name? Isn't she still just a nameless woman? Yes … she is … but… look at what follows in this gospel written by a man, in a world of men set up for men:
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
These women have names. They found someone who saw them as individual people, not things, not servants, not inferiors.
Maybe the woman has no name because it is not an Elizabeth, or an AnneMarie, defined by everyone else, who is in this story, but it is us: The woman is N…………….— put your own name in this space, because …
Jesus has given you a name.
There's something else in this story. Remember how I said " I think the story suggests had already met this woman, and treated her like a real person?" I think the story suggests something else: I've been reading it for years like this: "You gave me no kiss, but from the time she came in she has not stopped kissing my feet..." but it doesn't say that! The text says, "from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet." She was already there; she was part of the house.
And in the New Testament, the house is the church, and the Pharisee is the warning to the people of the house: "Am I behaving like this person?" is the question we should ask ourselves every time we meet a Pharisee in the text. Only a Pharisee says, "That person is a sinner, I'm not like them."
There were real life Pharisees, of course, but in our text they are the warning of the way which is opposed to the Way of Jesus. And here, at the meal, in the house, it is the Pharisee who is being the sinner. We are to be a Jesus in our congregation, not a Simon. And we are, of course, the woman, because what Jesus said to her, he says to us.
Jesus has given us a name.... You. You are loved. You are not defined by others. You are not who they said you were. You are more than their definition. You are precious to God— you are.
God loves you.