Luke 7: 36 - 50
The story of a woman anointing Jesus is one that is found, with various differences to the details of the story, in all four gospels. This must be an important, even a vital, story.
So let’s look at the story first from the point of view of Simon, the Pharisee, who Luke tells us is the host for a meal to which he has invited Jesus.
Simon is a Pharisee: he is very concerned about knowing, understanding and keeping the law of Moses, as a means of showing loyalty to God, being one of God’s peoples, obeying the command to love God and love others.
He is presumably impressed by what he has seen of Jesus – his teaching and healing ministry, and he wants a chance to see Jesus close up for himself.
So imagine how disconcerted he is when a woman in the city, a well-known sinner, gate-crashes the meal and begins making a spectacle of herself, weeping on Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair, pouring expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet. There’s no way Simon can have a serious theological discussion with Jesus with all that going on!
And he’s a bit disappointed that Jesus doesn’t get rid of the woman. He thinks 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 the rabbi, the wise teacher, surely wouldn’t want this sinner touching him like this.
Then Jesus finally turns his attention from the woman at his feet to Simon ‘I have something to say to you’
But all Jesus wants to do is tell Simon the story of two people forgiven debts – one a large amount – over a year’s wages, the other a smaller amount – just over one month’s wages. Which of the forgiven people will love the forgiving lender the most? Obviously the one who is forgiven most – the one who has most to be grateful for.
But then Jesus gives Simon a huge shock “You see this woman?”.
How could Simon not see the woman! But what Simon sees is a sinner, who should not even have been let into his law-abiding house, and who certainly shouldn’t be touching Jesus. Simon sees someone utterly unlike himself, who he wants nothing to do with, who he would like to see leave his home & stop being a bother.
The shock is going to come as Simon sees this woman as Jesus sees her:
You gave me no water for my feet – she bathed my feet with her tears
You gave me no kiss – she has not stopped kissing my feet
You did not anoint my head – she has anointed my feet.
Who has treated Jesus with honour and respect? The woman, the so-called sinner, the one Simon considers unclean.
And why has she done all these things for Jesus? Because she has been forgiven all her sins, and so she shows great love.
Jesus sees a forgiven sinner, and the one who has been forgiven much, loves much.
Perhaps Simon thought this woman could never be forgiven, but Jesus declares she is forgiven and tells her ‘go in peace’.
Why is this story so important? Because it turns all the old ideas about sinlessness and worship of God on its head.
In Simon’s Pharisaic tradition people who were unclean were not welcome in the Temple to worship God. First you must be clean – then you can worship. But Jesus concentrates not on sin but on love, not on our efforts to be sinless but on God’s grace.
This woman knows she is forgiven, and so who acts in love and gratitude to Jesus for that forgiveness. In case Simon or anyone else doubts her right to approach Jesus, he says, loud and clear ‘Your sins are forgiven – go in peace’.
The love of God is capable of forgiving all sin, giving everyone a fresh start. Those who realise they are forgiven, love God and want to worship and serve him. And when we accept God’s forgiveness we are set free to live in peace.
I can think of no better theme for my last sermon here. This is the best of the Good news.
Human beings tend to bog each other down with rules and regulations about how to be good, or dutiful, or worthy of God’s love.
Perhaps there’s a bit of a tendency to do this in a time of vacancy sometimes – as we fret about how long it will be until a new minister comes and what we should be doing in the meantime.
But Jesus stands it all on its head – first, God loves us, and wants to draw us into a relationship with him. God forgives our sin and makes us new. When we realise that we are set free to love and serve God, and want to love and serve other people and tell them about God’s love for them.
If I had to summarise it and leave you something to aim for as a church in the future it would be
Believe the Good News
Be Good News for others
Share Good News with the people around you.
And may God continue to bless you with grace & love. Amen.