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.
I’m grieving right now.
I’m grieving for the world.
I’m grieving for the United States.
I’m grieving for the people of El Paso and Dayton and countless other cities where too many people have lost their lives because we, in America, are addicted to our guns and our violence. I’m also grieving for the first responders.
These brave men and women give so selflessly of themselves to serve their communities. They suffer more than most of you reading this post will ever know. Many of them suffer in silence. Many of them drown their suffering in alcohol or pills or sex or suicide or whatever they can find to dull the pain.
I know they do this. I know because I did it.
Here’s the thing. Humans weren’t made for this. We weren’t made to murder each other. We weren’t made to take lives, including our own, through violence or any other means. How do I know this? Because I am a Christian and I believe God’s Word.
In the beginning, God created. He created all things that existed and He created mankind. He created mankind in His own image, to model and show the world what He was like. And when He had created mankind, He said it was “very good.” If you’ve never read the story or have never really reflected on it or just want to read it again, I invite you to read Genesis 1-3.
But something went wrong.
We chose. Adam chose. Mankind chose to turn our backs on our good Creator and go it our own way. Our pride drove us to make a decision that has proven to be catastrophic for the world. We chose disobedience over obedience. We chose our own will over God’s will. We chose our own way over God’s way. And sin entered the world.
Now look where we are.
We murder and slander and scream and eradicate and destroy and crush our fellow man and the world that God has created that He called good. We flounder around searching for answers to our own problems and yet turn our eyes and hearts away from the very person that can and has and will answer every question that we have, every answer we seek.
Here’s the reality. There are no answers to our problems in America or in the world without the person of Jesus Christ.
Education can’t be the answer. We’ve tried that. We are the most educated and advanced society the world has ever known. Yet, murder and suicide and assaults and vitriol and racism have never been more rampant. We are so busy shouting at each other and accusing one another and pointing fingers that we cannot see the forest for the trees. If education could solve our problems, we would not see racism and all the other problems we see.
Tolerance can’t be the answer. We’ve tried that. Only our so-called tolerance isn’t really tolerance. We are only tolerant of those who are like us, who agree with us. And so our shouting and biting words tear us apart.
There are no answers to our problems apart from the person of Jesus Christ.
While we grieve (rightly so) and demand change (also rightly so), let’s also not forget that there is very real human collateral damage here. Children are dying. Teenagers are dying. Adults are dying. First responders and soldiers suffer within their own hearts and minds the fall out of having to deal with constant death and depravity.
There are no answers to our problems apart from the person of Jesus Christ. It is only in Him that we will find the peace with ourselves and one another that we so desperately need and crave. So while we have our debates about gun control, racism and many other things, let us hear again the words of our Saviour.
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
A Prayer for the Human Family (Book of Common Prayer):
O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!