June 17 Sermon – Luke 7:36-50

Today is Fathers’ Day - a time to remind ourselves that being a father is not an easy job.  And some men have difficulty carrying out its responsibilities.  To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin’s sarcastic comment, “One good father is worth two good mothers, because, the scarcer things are, the more they’re valued.”

We do value fathers for they have a high calling.  St. Paul implies the relationship of a father to his family should be like that of Christ to the church: a father should love his wife and children in the same way that Christ loves His family, the church.  That’s a demanding comparison, for Paul says Christ gave himself up through death for His church. 

Hence it is sacrificial love.  It costs a man to be a father.  His preferences may have to be deferred, his desires denied, and regular decisions that choose putting his family first.

The comparison of a father’s love to that of Christ suggests one more important point - it is an unconditional love that the family can count on.

Children don’t have to earn their father’s love.  Dad doesn’t say I’ll love you if you first measure up.  What makes a father a father is that he cares about his kids when they don’t measure up - even when they mess up.  He’s still there for them no matter what they say of do.

That kind of love is hard to put into practice.  The only One who can really love in that way is the Lord.

 

 That is what Paul is writing about in our 2nd lesson:

“And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus,

so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,

and not by doing works of the law.” Galatians 2:16

We have been made right with God not by what we have done -- but by what God has done for us through Christ.  And we come to know this truth by faith.

You don’t do a lot of stuff to get saved – to earn your salvation.  You are saved by God’s grace – it is a gift – and that grace and salvation become real in your life through faith in Christ.

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That‘s what Jesus is teaching Simon the Pharisee in today’s gospel, when He was a guest at his house for dinner. A Pharisee was “a good man in the worst sense of the word.”

Back then, before chairs were in common use, the dinner table was low, and one dined in a reclining position.  As they were talking and eating, a woman of the city, who was a public sinner, came in, weeping and carrying a jar of ointment. 

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It must have taken a lot of courage for her to enter a Pharisee’s house.  It reminds me of a true story about a conversation a policeman had with a prostitute.                                          

She was in horrible shape - hooked on drugs, unable to buy food for he two year old daughter. 

    She was desperate for help, any kind of help.

Finally he said to her:  “Have you ever thought of going to a church for help?”

She was shocked:  “You’ve got to be kidding!  Church?  Why would I ever go there?  I’m already feeling terrible about myself. I don’t need that kind of guilt trip.” 

 

The woman washed Jesus’ feet, died them with her hair, and anointed them with oil.  Simon and his guests were shocked by her scandalous behavior. The host thought, If this man Jesus really had prophetic insight, he would be able to tell what kind of woman this is – that she is an unclean sinner.  How can he let her touch him?  Is this any way for a real prophet to behave?

After all, what is religion for if not to enable one to discern between good and bad, the righteous and the unrighteous?

 

Simon the Pharisee and Jesus have contrasting responses to the sinful woman.  Simon has an understanding of righteousness – of being right with God – which causes him to distance himself from her.  Association with a sinner would make me unclean too.

Jesus understands righteousness to mean moving toward her with forgiveness and blessing.  Righteousness in that sense is the power of God and can be extended to others.   

She is an example of those sinners who, as Jesus said know they are sick and need a physician - of those who know they need the Lord and His grace.  But Simon, who is self-righteous and rejects her, is an example of sinners who do not know that they are sick – who think they are just fine - and hence really don’t need help from the Lord.  But they are both sinners – Jesus ministers to both, and is at the same table with both.  He receives the weeping penitent with forgiveness.  He patiently, though honestly, instructs the self-righteous Pharisee.

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Having welcomed the sinful woman, Jesus turns his attention to Simon, the righteous Pharisee, instructing with a little parable.  A creditor had two people who owed him money.  One owed a lot; the other a little.  When they could not pay, he forgave them both.  Now which will love him more?

The one for whom he forgave the greater debt.

That parable, Jesus says, shows the contrast between Simon and the woman – the contrast between how Simon received Jesus and how she did.  He describes her seemingly scandalous behavior as a kind of hospitality, which Simon had not offered – washing his feet.  She did this to express her love and gratitude in response to receiving forgiveness.

And so, I tell you, her great love proves that her many sins have been forgiven.

Because she was forgiven much, she loved much.  Acts of love - of charity - are the response to God’s grace received.  Having received God’s goodness, we pass it on.

On the other hand, Simon is self-righteous, and doesn’t think he needs any forgiveness.  Hence he has no need to be thankful and loves little

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Where would you be at that dinner at Simon’s house?  Maybe some could identify with Simon – good at being good and religious, upright and spiritual.  Others might identify with the sinner who needs God’s grace.  For some, our sin is in found in our life-style – for others our sin is in our condemnation of other’s life style.  Some sin in their sinfulness; others sin in their righteousness.  Jesus is at the same table with both, welcomes both, and teaches both.

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All - Simon the Pharisee and the un-named woman of the city, Peter and Paul, you and I, are really sinners in need of God’s grace – the grace and forgiveness we freely receive form Christ.

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Jesus has been preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God in word and deed.  Last week we saw how he broke down the barriers between rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and gentile – the invitation to the kingdom is for all kinds of people.  It is a kingdom in which outsiders become insiders – and that dinner at the house of Simon the Pharisee is a foretaste of the kingdom.  The very religious Simon is an insider and that woman is an outsider – an intruder – who is welcomed by Jesus.

One of the criticisms of Jesus was that he showed poor taste in his choice of dinner companions.  This man eats and drinks with sinners. 

The charge is undeniable. In doing so, Jesus demonstrates that he has come to set us free from all bondage, even the bondage of our narrowly conceived religion.  He has broken down the barriers between “sinners” and “righteous” – and especially the barriers we might erect. God’s grace removes the burden of self-righteousness – the burden of comparing my life to others to show that I am holier than you are – and thus in God's favor.

 

Jesus reveals a new kingdom, in which old values, old standards of insiders and outsiders, sinners and righteous are turned upside down and set in a new light.

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Remember Jesus said to the woman,  

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Those at the table began to question Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, but Jesus said to the woman,

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

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   This scandalous gospel is printed out in your bulletin, and we look in vain for Jesus’ words “Go and sin no more.”  He said that another time to someone else, but not this time to this woman of the streets. 

We also look in vain for her repentance - for her promise to reform her life.  It’s not there.

There are no strings, no conditions - just pure grace - an undeserved gift from God.

His words are simply “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Her faith - she believed that the Lord would forgive her - and when she heard his word of forgiveness, she believed that she was forgiven by God

- and so she could go in peace.

 

In the catechism Luther says, when we come to communion, we need only believe the words of Jesus “given for you for the forgiveness of sins”

- Believe that God loves you with

                         a faithful, steadfast love

Believe his promise that he is present

                         - that he will walk with you

Believe his word: “Your sins are forgiven

            - and like the woman you can go in peace...

 

Let us pray

Lord Jesus, friend of sinners, help us to remember that we were outsiders, are sinners, and far from being perfect disciples.  And you have come to us, invited and called us, embraced and forgiven us.

Lord Jesus help us to remember your invitation and forgiveness – and help us to do the same in our encounters with those whom, we consider outsiders and sinners.

Lord Jesus, forgive our uncharitable thoughts, our kind words, our judgmental attitudes.

Renew your Spirit within us, that others may see You reflected in our lives.