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Monday, April 4, 2016
Today’s Reading | Luke 7:36–50
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. And 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. She 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. Now 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.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “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.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward 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. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, 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.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (NRSV)
Simon the Pharisee has invited this itinerant preacher in for a meal, because he wants to hear what this interesting guy has to say. And because Simon is a person of place in the community, he is clearly reaching down the social ladder to this wandering Jesus fellow. A good deed, and done in the spirit of charity, no doubt.
There’s nothing wrong with charity, of course. It can make you feel good, a little act of charity toward those who don’t have much. Drop a dollar in a cup, buy someone a sandwich, and walk away feeling good about yourself. And that can be a problem.
You see, status has a way of corrupting generosity. Often what looks like compassion is simply a demonstration of superiority: I’m a have, you’re a have-not, you need my charity and let’s not forget it. The “good deed” I did, that’s not about you; it’s about me.
So, there’s this woman—from even lower down the ladder, a woman with whom Simon usually wouldn’t be caught dead—and she follows the guest in and begins making a fuss over him. She’s so involved in the fuss she’s making over Jesus, she’s not even paying attention to Simon . . . and it’s his house! Jesus being Jesus can read Simon’s expression, and Jesus being Jesus has a dry and ironic way of putting things in perspective: “I’m a big deal to her because she’s a sinner and really needs forgiveness; but you, you’re so righteous you don’t need much, so I’m not that big a deal to you.” (You can almost hear the air quotes around “So Righteous.”)
Status has a way of corrupting generosity, when we think we are giving “down the ladder.” When we reach across, when we give out of kinship and empathy and knowledge of how we ourselves deeply need the generosity and kindness of God, then our sacrifices smell a lot more sweet.
Lord, help me remember that I am the beggar, I am the sinner, I am the one most in need of grace. Let my compassion be given out of my knowledge of my own need, as freely as I would receive it. Amen.
Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts
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