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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Today’s Scripture 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 cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then 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. 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)

We could stop and linger in so many places in the text. We could focus on the fact the woman is not named. Was she anointing Jesus in preparation for his death? Because he spoke of God’s love for her and she felt called to show her gratitude?

But let us focus on one thing: Jesus’ statement of “Your sins are forgiven.” In our English translation, it sounds like an action Jesus is doing right then and there. It sounds like he is saying, “Beginning now, your sins are forgiven.” Yet the Greek is trickier and more nuanced. Jesus uses the perfect tense of the verb “to forgive,” which means the forgiveness is a past action that has a continued effect in the present. In other words, somehow, because of who he was, her sins had been forgiven before she even knew it. So now she was invited to live out of that freedom, to live as the new creation she already was! Our question then, is, “Did she?” Did she leave that room ready to live as new creation?

If she is like we are, she might have done it well on some days and poorly on others. As a commentator has written, “Perhaps we want just enough forgiveness so that we don’t feel so badly, but not enough to make us change our lives” (from I like to think she discovered her freedom that day, that she did indeed begin living more fully as who she was, as a beloved child of God. I also like to think that, in response, she started seeing others as new creations too. As musician John Bell writes, “Take, O take me as I am; summon out what I shall be.” Perhaps all of us might learn from the unnamed woman and allow ourselves to be changed by God’s summoning love.

Indeed, O God, take us as we are. But don’t let us stay as we are. Summon us through your love into living out of hope, with mercy undergirding our steps and grace giving breath to our lungs. Help us to live into our forgiveness, so we might have the courage needed to live as your disciples. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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