Sunday, June 12th, 2016 – Sermon on Luke 7:36-8:3

If you find yourself on this blog, I encourage you to first spend your time reading Emmy Kegler’s blog post. Her voice and her words on this are much more important than mine.

Audio will be available soon.

Luke 7:36-8:3
7:36 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. 37 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. 38 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. 39 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.” 40 Jesus 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. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 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. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 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.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And 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, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Early on in the gospel of Luke, during Jesus’ first sermon, quoting the book of Isaiah, he says this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.” In fact, just a few verses before our gospel reading today, Luke writes about what Jesus has be doing in his ministry and Luke says, “Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.” Clearly, there is a theme here both in Luke and in Jesus’ life – that part of Jesus’ ministry in this world is to those who are blind, so that they may see again.

I want you to hold on to that as we enter into the gospel reading again.

Our reading begins this morning with Jesus accepting an invitation to a Pharisees’ house for dinner. Now, remember, the Pharisees were the ones who were always out to get Jesus. They were always trying to trap him with the law, and complaining about whom he eats with. And so the very fact that Jesus says yes to this dinner invitation is an act of remarkable grace.

But that’s just the beginning of the grace to found in this story. Because in the middle of dinner, a woman from the city, who was a sinner, interrupts the meal, and kneels at Jesus’ feet, weeping. She bathes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. And then she kisses his feet and anoints them with oil.

Now this act of extravagant love and affection and gratitude…well this greatly disturbs Jesus’ host – the Pharisee. Because he knows what kind of woman this is. And he discerns that Jesus must not be a prophet, because if he were, he would know exactly what kind of woman this person is and would never let himself be touched by her.

Sensing this dis-ease in the Pharisee, Jesus says, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And then Jesus tells him a parable. Two people are both in debt and they can’t repay it. One has a debt of $5,000, the other of $50,000. Both debts are forgiven. Who would be more grateful?

The Pharisee knows the answer –the one with the greater debt would be more grateful.

Jesus agrees and then he asks him a question. And this question, I think, is the heart of this story – Simon…do you see this woman? Do you see her?

Remember, part of Jesus’ ministry to restore sight to the blind.

Simon, do you see this woman?

Which, of course, the answer is….no. He can’t see her. And what we learn is that we can have fully functioning eyes and still be blind to what Jesus wants us to see. Simon was blind to this woman. He couldn’t see her. All he could see was her sin. All he could see was her history. All he could see was her past. He couldn’t see her. He couldn’t see her humanity. He couldn’t see her present reality. He couldn’t see that from the moment she walked in she was showing love and gratitude, which if you remember from the parable is the result of forgiveness. Which means maybe she didn’t enter this house as a sinner. Maybe she entered it as a new creation. As a new person with a new future, having already been forgiven by Jesus at an earlier encounter. But Simon the Blind Pharisee couldn’t that. He couldn’t see her because of his foggy lens of prejudice against her.

Notice that both people in the parable had debts that they could not pay. Which would suggest that while this woman may be a sinner, Simon the Pharisee was a sinner too. But Simon couldn’t see that. And notice that both people in the parable had their debts forgiven. Which would suggest that while this woman was forgiven, Simon the Pharisee was forgiven too. But Simon couldn’t see that.

These two people in this story who see so different, so far are apart, are in this moment the same. They are both debt free. They are both forgiven. But one of them couldn’t see that. And Jesus comes to bring sight to the blind. And the question becomes will this cataract surgery that Jesus is trying to perform on Simon work – and will he be able to actually see her for who she is – as a forgiven child of God, and not for what she’s done?

The text never tells us. The story remains open for us to finish.

And maybe that is exactly where this story is leading us today. To finish this story for ourselves. Will Simon the Blind Pharisee be converted to the Jesus way of seeing things? Of seeing people. Or better yet, we will be converted to the Jesus way of seeing?

Because that’s the real question – and it’s a bit more uncomfortable.

Can we see this woman in this story?

That’s the question theologian Barbara Reid wants us to ask. Can we see this woman? Or do we actually see her exactly as Simon did?

Someone open their bible page 840. What’s the heading for this story? A Sinful Woman Forgiven.

 If you look in other Bible translation, other section titles given to this story are just the same: The Pardon of a Sinful Woman, The woman who was a sinner.

In almost all biblical titles for this section, the sinfulness of the woman is the focus. Why do none of our Bibles title this story as Jesus would title it – “A Woman Who Shows Great Love.”?[1]

And why is it that for almost 1800 years, the interpretations of this text are nearly unanimous in saying that this woman’s sin is prostitution – as if that’s the only a first-century woman is capable of? Do we see her as a prostitute? The text never says it. All it says is that she was from the city and she had many sins.

It seems that we as readers of this story have become blinded by this woman’s sin and it’s all we can see, just like the Pharisee. When the question Jesus wants to ask us is – do you see her? And not her sin.

I can’t help but feel like this blindness of our is part of what we’re seeing in the case of this swimmer from Stanford who was convicted of sexual assault but only sentenced to six months in prison. Because too many of the articles have been focused on him and his remarkable swim times and his ruined career, rather than focused on this woman and what this means for her life.

Because of this news story, the gospel story has been under great scrutiny this week. Because many of my pastor friends who are women say that the way we see this woman and her sin in this story only continues to reflect the way we treat in women in our 21st Century society.

A friend of mine, Pastor Emmy Kegler, wrote a remarkable blog post in light of this news story and this story from Luke.[2]

“This is the pervasiveness of the way our culture looks at women — that we are sexual objects, and that our sin is likely to be sexual.  It is interesting, and not in the polite Midwestern usage, that the only sin we can ascribe to this woman is sexual promiscuity.  Interesting too, and not at all politely, that sexual sin — ahem — takes two to tango.  (If this woman was a prostitute, where are the men? And why are they not held accountable?)

 Emmy also wonders, if this woman was a prostitute, why for the past 1800 years has the church not been asking what kind of a society, what kind of a life leads someone into prostitution. Can we wonder more about that and less about her sin?

Do we see this woman? No because we miss the systems that put women into such situations.  Emmy continues, by saying, “We miss the culture that teaches women, from day one, to be pretty, to be quiet, to offer hugs and accept kisses from family and friends even if they don’t want it.  We miss how we tell little girls “He only pulls your hair because he likes you.”  We miss how we tell girls that their exposed shoulders are causing their male friends to have lustful thoughts, that they need to cover up so the boys won’t stare.  We miss how we laugh and say “It’s a compliment, don’t get so upset” when a woman rejects a stranger who tells her how great she looks in that dress.”

Do you see her? That’s what Jesus asks Simon. That’s what Jesus asks us.

Honestly, I’m not sure I do yet. I think I’m still a little blinded by my privilege, my culture. I need God to keep working on my eyes.

A little over a week ago, Pastor Pam and I were at a leadership conference, and one of the activities was to list people that our group saw as leaders. And by the end, there were all kinds of people listed up on these sheets of paper. And we were asked, “What do we notice about our list?” So we all shared some insights. But then someone finally saw it and said it – there’s not very many women up there.

And suddenly, we all got quite. This room of mostly men sat in embarrassment as we were shown our own sin of prejudice and how we perpetuated a male-dominated society. In fact, the very next day, one of the men in our group confessed how embarrassed he still was that he didn’t notice the few women on our leaders list, and had no one pointed it out, he would’ve never noticed it.

That was God working on our eye-sight, right then and there. That was God giving sight to the blind. So that we might be converted to the Jesus way of seeing.

And it hurt. But it was a good kind of hurt. And there was grace in it…forgiveness even.

And that’s just it. If Jesus comes to gives sight to those who are blind it means there is still hope for those of us who are blind.

Both this woman and Simon the Pharisee are forgiven in this text. Which can give us the assurance that we are forgiven too. So, know that whatever you carry with you here today. Whatever wrongdoing, whatever regret, whatever sin – it is forgiven in the eyes of God. But know that it doesn’t end there. Because forgiveness is never an end. It is always a beginning.[3] Because as the grateful woman of this story shows us, out of great forgiveness flows great love.

God forgives us in order to set us free to love more. And God shows us our sin and our blindness, because how can we love more if God doesn’t show us where we haven’t been loving? It is forgiveness that sets us free to do something about the hurt we’ve caused. To repair the relationship we damaged or to change the system we keep propped up.

May we all know the forgiveness of God. And, as a result, may we all have eyes to see her, our neighbor, in love.


[1] Reid, Barbara, “Do You See This Woman”, from A Feminist Companion to Luke, edited by Amy-Jill Levine, pg. 112


[3] I’m indebted to both Emmy Kegler blogpost (see above) and Sam Well’s sermon ‘The Justice of God’ for this insight.


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