Sermon Pentecost 4
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Forgiveness and Gratitude – they go together.
In today’s story, Jesus is the guest of honor at a dinner party. He has been invited by a Pharisee named Simon. Simon is one of the two main characters in the story besides Jesus.
Simon’s guests are the prominent members of the community. They are all there to meet Jesus, the prophet everyone has been talking about.
It is a respectable dinner party for important people. They are having a polite discussion about theology. Then there is a disturbance. This woman doesn’t just crash the party, she causes a big scene. She starts crying and wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair. Then she puts expensive ointment on his feet. Even the jar it comes in is expensive. She is kissing his feet!
This woman is the other main character in the story. Everyone in town knows her. Even if they don’t all know her personally, they all know her by reputation. She is not the kind of person who gets invited to this kind of dinner party.
She is not the kind of woman who gets invited anywhere respectable. That may partly explain her socially outrageous behavior. Maybe she doesn’t even know how totally out of place her behavior is.
We know she was a sinner. We don’t know what she did to get that label. We don’t need to know, though, because everyone in that small town knew what she did. Some Bible scholars have speculated about it, but I think their speculations may say more about them than they do about her.
Everyone in town knew Simon, the host, too. He was a prominent and upstanding citizen. He was a Pharisee, active in his local synagogue. He never got in trouble with the law. He paid his taxes. He went to worship every week. He was a traditional kind of guy. He liked things done the way they should be done.
He associated with other people who also went to worship weekly and followed the traditions and obeyed the law. In other words, he was a lot like us Lutherans – good law-abiding citizens, regular worshippers, people who like things done decently and in good order.
The trouble is, Simon isn’t the good guy in this story. He gets upset when that woman crashes his little dinner party. He doesn’t understand why Jesus put up with her. I really can’t blame him. I know I would not like it if I was hosting a party for an important guest and some strange woman came in and started crying and wiping his feet with her hair. How embarrassing!
Then Jesus asked Simon, “Who do you think would be more grateful, a person whose debt of 500 denarii was canceled, or one who was forgiven only fifty?” A denarii was an average day’s wage for a laborer. Simon answers that he supposes it would be the one who was forgiven the bigger debt.
The woman who came in and washed Jesus’ feet had been forgiven many sins, perhaps 10 times as many as the others present had been forgiven. She is overcome with gratitude to Jesus. She is like someone who had lost everything and has now been given everything.
Is forgiveness really everything? Can it possibly be worth that much? Can it be worth degrading yourself in front of everyone who is anyone in town? Can it be worth expensive ointment being used on someone’s feet?
I believe the answer is “YES.” In relationships, forgiveness really is everything. It opens up the future for us. It releases the claims we have on someone who has hurt us. Forgiveness cancels the debt we owe each other. Forgiveness sets us free to be in loving relationships.
Forgiveness also gives us back ourselves. When we know we have hurt someone, we feel the weight of our debt to them. That weight bears down on us. It becomes our identity. We wear the label “sinner” like the woman in the story.
We become what we have done. We become what we have failed to do. We become the mistakes we have made. I think that is why it is sometimes harder to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive someone else. We can become so weighed down by our sins that we define ourselves by them. They surround us and we have trouble seeing anything else because of them.
Forgiveness really is everything. When the weight of sin is lifted, that space in our lives is filled with gratitude. Gratitude leads us to acts of love and devotion. The woman in the story is overwhelmed with gratitude toward Jesus for the gift of forgiveness. It is almost unbelievable to her. Maybe that’s why Jesus says it to her again, “Your sins are forgiven.” Good news like that needs to be repeated. It seems too good to be true.
But what about Simon? He is the other main character here. The one who is more like we are, most of the time. He is the religious guy, the good citizen. He has been forgiven very few sins. He likes to think that’s because he is such a good person.
Jesus doesn’t pass judgment on him. Jesus just states the facts. He says that those who have been forgiven little, love very little.
Perhaps they have been forgiven more than a little, but they just don’t notice it, or they take it for granted. They think of forgiveness as something for the big sinners, for the people beneath them, not for themselves. Like Simon, they are judgmental.
They remind me of a joke I read last week.
Picture a sign outside of the church. It says, “This church is not full of hypocrites. There is always room for more.”
People like Simon who believe that they are righteous themselves, never know the joy and love of receiving the gift of God’s forgiveness. They don’t live lives of gratitude, sharing that joy with others.
People like the woman, people who have been forgiven much, live lives of gratitude and generosity. They know that they have been given everything. Their relationships with God and with others have been restored. They are free to love. They have been given the gift of the future.
When you think about it, this story helps us understand just why Jesus was killed. For much of his ministry so far, he has been going around preaching and healing people. He has become very popular. What’s not to like?
Then he starts talking about forgiveness. Talking about forgiveness is great, if you are like the woman, and know you need it. But, what if you are like Simon? What if you think you are a good person already? What if you think you are doing just fine on your own?
If you are like Simon, all this talk about forgiveness can be offensive. You wonder just who does Jesus think he is, anyway? How dare he suggest that we are all sinners?
But wait, condemning the Pharisees is also a problem. Once we start judging the Simons of the world, we discover that we have become a bunch of hypocrites just like them.
So today we have to decide –
do we resent Jesus for pointing out that we are all sinners –
or do we accept the forgiveness Jesus offers and respond with joy and gratitude.
Forgiveness and gratitude – they go together.
Jesus says to you, “Your sins are forgiven.” Thanks be to God. Amen.