Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, Teacher”, he said. Luke 7:40
There is nothing quite like Jesus knocking us off our high horse. Sometimes I get tickled at how quickly we humans (me at the front of the line) place ourselves in the role of God. Yes…God. Jesus serves at the will and direction of God. He walks the earth and embodies what it looks like and feels like to walk with and follow God. He doesn’t create his own plan and agenda. He seeks, listens, and follows. Hour by hour. Day by day.
His anguish is evident in his sorrow. His deep pain and courage take him into that quiet place of prayer and seeking again and again. The hope and delight of Christ show up when he proclaims God’s justice and love. Jesus sees the potential. Jesus desires to show people the kingdom God is fulfilling on earth. He wants it for everyone. He connects the dots of how God works over long periods of history. Some receive it. Some reject it. Some wait to see what happens next. Many are unaware at all; no one is living it in front of them. How could they know?
I am struck by the encounters Jesus has in Luke 7, particularly with two people. First, the Centurion whose son is ill and at risk of dying; read his story here in Luke 7: https://bit.ly/centurionstory And secondly, the “sinful woman” who shows up unwanted nor invited. Perhaps she comes spiritually ill and at risk of dying. It’s not precisely clear; she just comes. Read her story here in Luke 7: https://bit.ly/unexpectedmercy
Two totally different people. One is highly respected by many people. The other evokes feelings of disgust and words of condemnation simply by her presence. Jesus notices something about both, and he responds.
The Centurion and the sinful woman have two things in common:
1. Something in their lives is happening that they cannot fix.
2. They believe that God can fix it. (Jesus calls this faith)
With the Centurion, all his great work and reputation are not enough to cure his son’s illness. He can command many things in this life, but he cannot control this. Although he is not Jewish, nor is he known by others as a “follower” of Jesus in this context, he recognizes who Jesus is and the reverence he is to be given. He knows that at the command of Jesus, his son will be restored.
There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”So Jesus went with them.
He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” – Luke 7:2-8
Unlike the Centurion who has a stellar and well-earned reputation, the sinful woman’s life must be a complete mess. Even so, she still knows exactly how to approach Jesus. She comes with the hospitality that is due this important guest. The hospitality that is part of being human – extending true care and love. The same grace and hospitality Abraham offered the “visitors” who came to his tent at Mamre. Genesis 18:1-5 read it here: https://bit.ly/holyhospitality
The woman also comes with great emotion and love; she is completely humble before him. Are her tears the tears of shame and sorrow or are they, rather, expressions of deep gratitude for what she has already received? Either way, she comes vulnerable and trusting of the one for whom her hands and heart reach.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Luke 7:36-39
Simon, the Pharisee who has invited Jesus over for supper, is confident about the woman’s sin. He knows from his lifelong study that sin doesn’t belong. His inner voice is questioning the credibility of Jesus simply because Jesus allows her to be this close to him. Simon is concentrating on assessment and right judgement, something he is expected to do. Jesus must love Simon so much. He offers to teach him something he doesn’t yet know about God.
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, Teacher”, he said.
I never get tired of the spiritual lessons that are offered us in the midst of ordinary life. Whether reminding, sharpening, or revealing something we’ve not seen before…the Spirit of God is faithful to teach us.
Both of these stories end with something that leaves the people (and us) pondering the response of Jesus. He never goes to the Centurion’s house to heal his son, but his son is healed. He never points out the sin of the woman, but he announces that it is her faith that saves her, and she departs with peace.
And what about Simon? Jesus meets him where he is: a faithful religious leader exercising wisdom and judgment, yet missing something critical. Jesus tells him a story where he can think and discern. And then Simon receives a teaching from Jesus that will assist him in his work and ministry should he choose to use it:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:44-47
Jesus responds to Simon’s inner thoughts…Simon never actually speaks them out loud. But Jesus hears his inner voice. The woman never blurts out the sin that is still being held against her, but her devotion and love speak all that Jesus wants to hear. She needs to express these acts of love and devotion to Christ. Her forgiveness is maturing into love.
What mattered for the Centurion was not how good he was or how respected he was by his community. Reputation and personal integrity are wonderful things to have, but they couldn’t heal his son. What made his encounter so profound was his deep reverence for who Jesus is, God in the flesh. He believed Jesus could do what he could not, and he reached out in faith.
We don’t need the details of the “sinful woman’s” story because her actions to and with Jesus are where he encourages us to focus. She loves him with gracious hospitality. She loves him without restraint. She loves him completely. While Simon is not able to see it, even with his educated and devoted life, Jesus teaches him to look for something different: the way she loves. When he sees the way she loves, he will see she is forgiven and accepted by God.
I do wonder about this.
With what reverence and humility do we approach God?
Have we left space for God to teach us as we are going about our lives?
How do we approach the one who, in the beginning, created every living creature and thing on earth and called it good? How do we come to the one who literally gives us our breath and will hold us when our breath on earth is no longer?
Do we come to Jesus ready to learn and see something more than we’ve known?
What are we looking for in ourselves or in others?
Step 2 from The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous echoes in my ear: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Both the Centurion and the “sinful woman” believe that God is the power that restores what is broken. It is Jesus, who just happens to be in the neighborhood. Perhaps Simon is coming to believe as well. Powerless to see anything but sin, he opens himself to be taught by the Christ who dines at his table. “Tell me, Teacher”, he said.
Holy God, please tell us too. We need to learn from Jesus too. We need a power greater than ourselves to restore us to sanity. We need you. Amen.
 Alcoholics anonymous big book (4th ed.). (2002). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.