Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Luke 7:36-50
Pentecost 4 – July 7, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Before I read the scripture readings for today I asked you to listen very carefully for the common theme that they had. What was the common theme? It wasn’t too difficult to figure out if you listened carefully. In each reading a person was confronted for his sin. In the Old Testament reading the prophet Nathan confronted King David for his sin of adultery and murder. In the second reading from Galatians the Apostle Paul confronted the Apostle Peter for his hypocrisy for not fearlessly accepting the Gentiles as part of the Christian congregation. And in our gospel reading, our text for today, Jesus confronted a man named Simon for failing to have forgiveness for a woman with a not so good reputation.
King David had a very repentant response to Nathan’s confrontation. He did finally repent of his sins of adultery and murder. As a matter of fact our psalm today, Psalm 32 written by David, is likely an expression of his sorrow and repentance over these particular sins. We’re not told about Peter’s response after Paul admonished him, though we can guess that Peter was repentant and changed his behavior. We also don’t really get the response of Simon either after Jesus confronted him. And we really can’t be so confident that he took Jesus’ admonition to heart.
How do you respond when someone confronts you on your sin? Does anybody ever confront you on your sin? These are really important questions for us who are so quick to claim Jesus’ forgiveness.
Today we ask that question:
CONFRONTED FOR YOUR SIN: HOW DO YOU RESPOND?
Jesus was in the earlier part of his ministry. He was preaching and teaching in the area of Galilee where he had grown up, the northern part of Israel. One day a Pharisee invited Jesus to come to his home for dinner. So what do you think of a Pharisee inviting Jesus to his home for dinner? We might be a little confused by the invitation. We know that generally the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus. They were religious conservatives who insisted on the precise keeping of the Law of Moses and condemned those who strayed the least bit from the Law or their many man-made applications. They saw Jesus as someone who undermined the Law of Moses and their authority and often fiercely opposed him.
But that doesn’t mean that all the Pharisees opposed Jesus. There were those who were intrigued by his teaching and his miracles. Such a man was Nicodemus who came to talk to Jesus under the cover of darkness. He became a defender of Jesus. This man Simon who invited Jesus into his home might have fallen into that same category, although that’s doubtful. It’s more likely that he was intrigued a bit by Jesus’ teaching and wanted to hear more. But that’s somewhat unlikely since Simon didn’t even show Jesus basic social courtesies as a guest in his home. The most negative conclusion that we can make about Simon’s motives was that this dinner invitation was a setup, an opportunity to get Jesus to say something that would condemn him.
But whatever Simon’s motives were they were abruptly interrupted by a very unusual circumstance. A woman from the community who was known for having lived a very sinful life – we probably would guess some kind of immorality – heard that Jesus was going to be at this dinner. She came into the Pharisee’s house, stood weeping behind Jesus who was reclining at the dinner table, wet his feet with her tears, and then proceeded to wipe his feet with her hair, and then poured perfume on them.
Think of a word to describe this woman’s behavior. The Christian part of us that knows this lesson and why she did this for Jesus might first of all say this was very loving on her part. And it was. But be more honest and answer as a 21st century westerner. Now what word would you use to describe her behavior? Embarrassing? Shocking? By today’s standards, yes. Some of us might even say her behavior was weird. Well, yes, it was a little weird, really, unusual. But in Jesus’ day and culture it wasn’t all that weird or unusual.
These dinners were often held in an open courtyard area of a person’s home. It was possible for people to somewhat casually come and go and observe the dinner. And guests didn’t sit on chairs at a table. They reclined on their side at a low table with their feet extending outward from the table. And in a day when a good host washed the sandaled feet of a guest it was not unusual for a servant to come around washing the feet of dinner guests. So it was not that weird or unusual to have this woman washing Jesus’ feet and perfuming them.
Simon was certainly somewhat shocked that Jesus would allow any woman to touch him in such a public situation. Such touching between men and women was strictly forbidden throughout society. Even today in Muslim and mideastern culture such closeness or touching between men and women is seldom if ever seen. But what really shocked and offended Simon was what kind of woman was touching Jesus. He knew her bad reputation and now she was actually touching Jesus and Jesus was allowing it.
Jesus of course knew what Simon was thinking, and he saw an opportunity to teach Simon, his guests, and all of us a very important lesson. Jesus told Simon a parable about two men who owed a moneylender some money, one a smaller amount, the other, a much larger amount. The moneylender forgave the debt of both. So Jesus asked Simon which one of the forgiven men would love and thank the forgiving moneylender more. Simon of course, like any logical person, answered that the man who had the greater debt forgiven would love and thank the moneylender more.
Then Jesus made his point. He pointed Simon to the woman. He said, “Simon, you invited me into your home for dinner, but you didn’t bother to show me even the least social courtesy. You didn’t wash my feet. You didn’t even give me the water to wash my own feet. But this woman, who you think is so immoral and sinful and socially inappropriate, washes my feet, wipes them with her hair, and perfumes them. She did this because she is so sorry for her sins and so thankful to God for his mercy and forgiveness. You, Simon, don’t have a clue how sinful you are or how much you need God’s mercy. You have no compassion for this repentant woman and no love for me or for God.”
We don’t know how Simon responded. What we do know is that Jesus’ words of mercy, forgiveness, and love were instead directed to the woman. Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
When you’re confronted on your sin how do you respond? Maybe a better question is, does anyone ever confront you on your sin? Speaking of social inappropriateness do you know how forbidden it is to confront anyone on their sin in our society today? It’s so forbidden that much of what the Bible calls sin is not considered sin anymore, and to confront anyone on those sins is considered woefully judgmental. And you will immediately be labeled hypocritical, homophobic, racist, misogynist and a thousand other horrible designations by today’s morality police.
We might decry such woeful attitudes toward sin and confrontation of sin in our godless society, but what’s even more concerning is how church going people, people who identify as Christians, respond to confrontation over their sin. That brings us back to that question: How do you respond when confronted by your sin? The sad reality is that there are too many of us Christians who don’t respond very well if we are confronted for sin.
If I confronted all the members of our congregation who never or almost never attend worship or bring their offerings, I bitterly know what most of the responses would be. If I slightly questioned the genuineness of their faith I don’t want to even think about the words I’d hear. If I confront a young person on immorality or living together outside of marriage, I’m dismissed as someone out of touch with reality. Or name whatever sin you want to that goes on in our lives, among us. What’s the response going to be if someone is confronted?
Today I’m starting a new Bible class entitled, “Why the Christian Church is Dying . . . and What We Can Do about It.” One of the reasons the Christian church is declining is that even within Christian churches sin is no longer called sin, too many people don’t take sin seriously, and it’s nearly impossible to honestly confront a fellow Christian and expect a repentant or even cordial or respectful response.
What about you? How would you respond if I or another Christian confronted you on your sin? We have sinful natures that don’t like to be confronted. I don’t like to be confronted on my sin. You don’t either. You and I don’t usually respond very well to confrontation over sin because it’s too painful.
In some ways we have made the confession of our sins painless. Here in church when we confess our sins we recite a prayer written for us in the hymnal. We say the same prayer together. We don’t have to mean it. We don’t even have to think about it. We don’t have to mention personal sins. We don’t get personally confronted. And we can just casually say the prayer knowing that the pastor turns around with the absolution, the words of forgiveness. It’s pretty easy.
You and I will always do well by having a thorough knowledge of God’s Ten Commandments and a healthy and reverent respect for God’s will. We should fear and love God. And when our conscience confronts us for our sins we want to really repent and change our sinful behavior. Or when a fellow Christian confronts us we want to respectfully repent and change our behavior.
We want to be like David when confronted by Nathan. In Psalm 32 David tells us the bitterness of not repenting and admitting sin. But then he rejoices when he repents and knows God’s forgiveness: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”
Or that woman at Simon’s dinner party who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears – she was someone who knew and admitted her sin and guilt. She knew by faith that Jesus forgave her. And she showed her love and thanks to Jesus. You and I need to be more like her.
And remember what Jesus told her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Amen.