It’s funny to me how things happen sometimes. Maybe funny isn’t the right word. Ironic is a better word. It’s ironic to me how things happen sometimes. I asked for suggestions on what to write about and two people suggested I write about things revolving around sin.
Here’s where irony comes in.
I’m doing an in-depth study right now through the gospel of Luke, while listening to a podcast, clearly a Sunday School type class, of an Orthodox priest teaching through the same. It’s been really good so far.
So yesterday, two people suggest I write about sin and this morning, the text covered was Luke 7:36-50. Take some time before continuing to read this text, ‘cause I’m not going to quote the whole thing. So, after going through this text this morning, I was struck by a couple of things. I was struck by the fact that I am much less like the woman and much more like the Pharisee in this story. And I was struck by the tender love and mercy of our Lord.
Let me explain.
Simon, our Pharisee in this story, is hosting Jesus for dinner. A word about Pharisees before we proceed, since we see them featured so prominently in the gospels. I don’t think the Pharisees were evil dudes. Granted, the murder of our Lord was at the hand of the Romans at the behest of the Pharisees and others in the ruling religious elite of Israel at the time. Having said that, I still don’t think the Pharisees were all evil dudes. They were, in the best way they knew how at the time, genuinely trying to serve God and obey His commands.
Yes of course they made up more rules than the Torah did and of course they missed the boat when it came to Jesus. But they weren’t just being mean. They were actually trying to follow God’s commands. Granted, they went a little overboard but they were trying, which is more than can be said for most of the Gentiles at the time.
Where things went sideways with the Pharisees, especially this one in this text, is that they began to believe that, because they were so good at keeping the rules, they didn’t need a Saviour. Why would they need some dirt poor peasant from Nazareth preaching to them when they had it all figured out? I mean, they were really good at following the rules.
The problem was is that their legalism had led them to pride. At least, it certainly did for Simon in this text. See, he didn’t invite Jesus over for dinner because he wanted to sit at His feet and learn and worship. He invited Jesus over because he wanted to find a way to discredit Him. Simon was motivated by pride.
Contrast that with this woman. We are never given her name. All we know is that Luke says she was a “woman of the city, who was a sinner.” A pretty vague description, don’t you think? But here’s what we do know about her. She stood behind Jesus’ feet. She wouldn’t even look Him in the eyes, probably never even looked up. Instead, she groveled at the feet of Jesus. She wept. In fact, she wept so much that she soaked Jesus’ feet. In fact, she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Her hair, ya’ll. Then she kissed his feet and anointed Him with fragrant ointment.
Ever wonder how awkward this encounter was for everyone in the room? I mean, don’t you think it got awfully quiet while this was going on?
Notice Simon’s pride. He thinks to himself, “If this dude were really who everyone says he is…and who he says he is, he would know who this woman is and wouldn’t be hanging around with her.”
Here’s more irony. Jesus reads Simon’s mind. Look at the text. Verse 39 says he thought it. It’s ironic that, when Jesus then speaks to Simon about what Simon is thinking about, Simon doesn’t even seem to realize that Jesus just read his mind. Ironic, isn’t it?
But here is where we see the tender mercy of Jesus, even for this arrogant legalist. Jesus calls him by name. He says, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He doesn’t berate him, even though He has read his mind and knows his arrogance. He doesn’t even call him a white-washed tomb or anything like that. He calls him by his name and tells him a story to point out to him where his own faith has fallen short. How tender and merciful our Lord is, even to those of us who are arrogant. See, Simon had a lot of knowledge about God. He knew the Torah and was faithful to follow it. But, Simon needed to learn something else.
Knowledge doesn’t trump humility.
Then, Jesus turns to the woman and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Oh, how tender our Lord is!
So, let me ask you…
Are you more like Simon or the woman? I have to admit that I am far too often like Simon. I pray (twice) daily and read the Scriptures. I go to Mass (when we’re not quarantined). I follow the rules (mostly) and I have a lot of theological knowledge. But, can I just confess something?
I don’t remember the last time I wept over my sins.
The grace of our Lord extends to all, even those of us whom have not recently (or ever) wept over our sins. The grace of God extends even to Simon and all the other legalists out there.
Would you join me in praying that the Spirit would break our hearts for our sins? Would you join me in falling at the feet of Jesus and, by His mercy, hearing those wonderful words:
“Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Maybe what we need is a lot more humility and a lot less hubris.
“Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews, but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
John 18:33-38 (RSV)
I’ve been thinking about this text all week. I guess it’s appropriate, given that we have entered the Easter season. This exchange, in various forms is found in all four of the Gospels, by the way. There are variances of the exchange but, in all four Gospels, the question “Are you the King of the Jews” is asked and answered.
This is something we’re meant to pay attention to.
I have some thoughts and questions for us to consider on this most holy weekend.
Pilate’s question seems kind of funny, don’t you think? Why does he care who calls themself a king in Judea? It’s not like his power or the power of Rome could actually be threatened by some backwater, podunk carpenter who claims to be a king, right?!
It’s fascinating to me that Pilate asks a question that is markedly sarcastic and seems politically motivated…at least on the surface. Consider it for a moment. Pilate was governor of Judea. This was probably not exactly a choice spot for someone with political ambitions. I mean, it’s the middle of the desert and he probably had to put down insurrections frequently. But…if this man he’s questioning is some type of king that the people will listen to, he could become an ally for Pilate to help him control this district. Pilate is thinking about his own personal agenda.
So Pilate asks a political question. But it was also prophetic. What Pilate probably didn’t know was that the Messiah foretold, the king that had been prophesied, was to be the King of all the world. He would, according to prophecy, bring all nations pouring in to Zion to worship and he would rule the whole world with justice and mercy. This was foretold.
I doubt Pilate knew that or had studied the Hebrew Scriptures much. His question, as sarcastic as it was, underhanded and politically motivated, was also prophetic. Out of the mouth of a pagan Gentile was Old Testament prophecy fulfilled.
Jesus’ answer is telling. He sees through Pilate’s question and answers him accordingly. Pilate is thinking worldly power and Jesus throws it back in his face. Jesus says to him, basically, “You’re coming at this all wrong, Pilate. If this was a political power struggle, my people would have never let this happen. If this was a power grab on my part, I wouldn’t be here. My people would have fought to make sure this didn’t happen.” Jesus confronts Pilate’s question head on and identifies what’s really important to Pilate: power and ambition.
Pilate was looking for an opportunity to get ahead. Jesus was fulfilling the Father’s will.
Here are the questions I’ve been considering all week as I’ve thought about this text.
How do I see Jesus?
Is He a means to an end, as He was with Pilate?
Or, is He the King of the world?
Here’s the thing. It really didn’t matter if Pilate acknowledged Jesus to be the King. Jesus was, and is, the King. Jesus didn’t need Pilate to acknowledge that, or even believe it. It was and is a fact regardless of Pilate’s belief. And Jesus tries to tell Pilate that. He says, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
There are some things that are objective fact, no matter how you or I feel about them. There was something that was objective fact staring Pilate right in the face.
The Truth was standing in front of him and Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
The King of the world was standing in front of him and Pilate is thinking about his own ambitions.
It really doesn’t matter if Pilate acquiesces to the fact of Jesus’ kingship. Jesus is King, no matter what Pilate thought. Jesus is truth, despite Pilate’s sarcasm.
How do you see Jesus?
Your King stands before you on this most holy weekend. Not like a king you would expect in pomp and circumstance. Not one who can fulfill your own personal ambitions or give you power. Your King stands before you bloody and beaten, dying on your behalf, proclaiming to the world the truth of sin and redemption.
The King has died so that you and I may live. Look long at your bloody and crucified King today. Worship at the foot of the cursed tree where Life died so that we may live. Go to that rocky tomb; anoint His body with the oil of your tears.
But know that He did not stay dead! In three days, He rose again! He has beaten back all our ambitions and selfishness with His love and obedience and sacrifice! He has risen again so that we may know freedom! He has risen so that we may know joy! He has risen again so that we may know the truth!
Behold your King!