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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before June 12, 2016

Luke 7:36 - 8:3

36One 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 canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then 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. 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 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.

What I Am Learning:

Guilt by association was very much a part of Mediterranean culture. The status of the person you associated with either increased or decreased your status. If you had dinner with a person of high reputation yours went up. If you had table fellowship with a person of low status your status went down.

The Pharisee took a huge risk by having Jesus over to dinner. Since Jesus was gaining in status in those days, if the Pharisee could best Jesus in a debate the Pharisee would gain in status. But it was a risk.

When Jesus allowed a woman who was deemed a sinner by her community to touch him in public the Pharisee's risk was not looking so good. Women and men who were not related were not supposed to have physical contact.  Not only was he touched by a woman, this woman was seen as a sinner.

We should take a moment and consider the use of this word, "sinner." One tradition in the Hebrew scripture is that when bad things happen to you it is because you have sinned against God. Likewise, when good things happen to you it is because you have done well in the eyes of God. This kind of theology tends to bless the status quo, God loves the winners and is very, very disappointed with the losers. Let's call this the "good person/good life theology."

So the Pharisee's only recourse was to have a sour face to show his disapproval of Jesus acting in a dis-honorable way by allowing a sinner, a woman to touch him.

As a good Jewish theologian, Jesus tells a story and then asks a question: Who loves more, a person who is forgiven much or a person who is forgiven little?

The Pharisee gave the obvious answer: the person who is forgiven much loves much.

Then Jesus offered a twist, or rather a reversal on the Pharisee. Jesus implied that the Pharisee, too, was a sinner, but a sinner who had not recognized or acknowledged his sin. But the woman did acknowledge her sin.

In the Jewish and Christian tradition, it is understood that all people fall short of love of God, self, neighbor and the earth. To acknowledge this falling short is a key part of our understanding of ourselves in relation to God. To acknowledge God's willingness to forgive us is key to understanding God and the new beginnings God gives.

In acknowledging her sin she acted with more honor than the all the ones with high honor.

Jesus announces that she is forgiven, but he does not do so for the Pharisee.

In Luke, Jesus rejects the good person/good life theology.

When Jesus challenged someone it was usually because they were using their status, power or wealth to distance  themselves from others - and use God to justify it. The good person/good life theology is most often used to absolve the wealthy and healthy from compassion toward those who are not.

Jesus continues his deviant behavior of associating with strange and diverse people. Not only was he followed by the 12 disciples, but by a group of women. It was these women who provided for his ministry. When Jesus included women as his disciples was be considered deviant, as women were not allowed to be students of a rabbi or to become rabbi's.

In short, he was willing to be declared guilty by association, to lose his status by relating to those with no status.

On Sunday I spent two hours at Westlake Park in Seattle with about 50 Muslims. It was very interesting to seek the looks people gave me as I stood there with my pastor's collar with so many obviously Muslim people. It was clear that some considered this association as a mark of deviance.

Jesus actively worked to challenge the status driven culture of his day with its good person/good life theology. He worked to dissolve the barriers to our seeing the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings AND the capacity all of us have to fall short of honoring that dignity.

As his disciples, the Spirit leads us to do the same.