Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
February 18, 2018
First Sunday of Lent
Luke 7: 36-50 (CEB)
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. 37Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster. 38Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.
40Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher, speak,” he said.
41“A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty. 42When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?”
43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”
Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”
44Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 46You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. 47This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”
48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?”
50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
I regularly have this experience in my life when I will remember some terrible mistake I have made, or something I said to someone that really hurt them, or a time when I was (rightly) rebuked for some action I had taken that was in poor judgment. As these memories flash through my mind, I am often overcome with a great sense of regret, or remorse, or guilt. It’s really difficult to describe, but it’s a terrible feeling. Perhaps you know this feeling, this experience; the way that guilt and remorse can suddenly grip us as we are reminded of past mistakes. It can be a heavy and difficult burden to carry.
One of the things that Owen likes to do right now is pick up rocks. He’s a two-year-old boy, so thankfully this doesn’t come as any surprise. We frequently have to stop in the middle of a parking lot so that he can stoop and pick up a broken piece of asphalt. One of his favorite things to do is to ride his car around the circle in our neighborhood, stopping on occasion to gather rocks and leaves, which he stores in his “trunk.” Sometimes these rocks will make their way into the house, where Owen will proudly display them on his dresser, checking in on them for several days before they are forgotten. As you can imagine, there are also times when Owen comes upon larger rocks and gets the idea that perhaps he should gather some of those as well. So he’ll go over, bend down, grab the rock, and then begin to lift it. But of course, he’s a two-year-old boy, and so at this point, those larger rocks never move very much with Owen’s effort. Sometimes he’ll re-position himself to try again, but the results are the same. Eventually, and inevitably, I will hear him say, “Its heaby, Mommy!” Indeed it is Owen, indeed.
Now, imagine with me for a minute that those rocks are sin. And that as Owen or any of us goes along gathering these rocks, we put them in a backpack that we carry on our back. And there are some little rocks that are like the bad thoughts that run through our mind when our boss asked us to work an extra hour, or when we told our kids they couldn’t have a piece of candy because it would ruin their dinner, only to secretly pop one in our mouth as the pasta boiled. Then there are larger stones—the way we judged the clothing of the young man walking down the sidewalk, or lashed out in anger toward the clerk who couldn’t get our transaction right. And of course, there are some really big rocks—moments when we have broken trust by lying to our spouse, or children, or others who love and trust us; times when we have damaged relationships by prioritizing money over people, or by being unfaithful. All of these go into that backpack we carry on our shoulders. Overtime, we will find, like Owen, that it’s “heaby”! It will sap us of our energy and wear down our strength, even to the point that we may eventually find that it is more than we can bear. Just as the burden of rocks so affects us physically, the burden of sin affects us emotionally and spiritually.
This is the burden the woman carries when she enters Jesus’ presence in the home of Simon the Pharisee. You can almost see the weight of her burden as she falls at Jesus’ feet, the tears of a weariness pouring from her eyes. The fact that she comes to Jesus at all in this place tells you just how desperate she is to be relieved of this burden. The Bible continuously portrays Pharisees as notoriously unsympathetic. And Simon obviously knows of this woman and makes it abundantly clear that he disapproves of her. We might assume Simon the Pharisee to be a bit more understanding as he is willing to dine with Jesus, but when it comes to this woman, this Pharisee has cast his judgment. Yet the woman enters his home anyway. That would not have been an unusual thing in Jesus’ day. There were not necessarily doors and locks as we have them today, and it was not unusual for people familiar and unfamiliar to casually come and go from the homes of others. But if the Pharisee is familiar with the woman, then we can assume that she must be familiar with him as well. So why would she dare enter a home where she must’ve known she would be condemned? She went there because she knew Jesus was there. She knew that even in the midst of condemnation, he and he alone could relieve her burden.
Just imagine that after days or even years of carrying around the burden of rocks in your backpack, you learn of one person who is strong enough to take on your load, the only person in the whole world who can do it. That’s the person you would go to, right? And it wouldn’t matter where you had to go to meet that person; you’d get there. Because you know if you can get to that person, you can finally have relief. So the woman enters this home, and with Simon the Pharisee standing there condemning her, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then anoints them with the oil that she carries in an alabaster vase, all the while kissing the feet of her Lord.
The sins of the woman are never listed, though both Simon and Jesus seem to know the woman’s record. For Simon, her behavior is such that he believes Jesus should not even be interacting with the woman. But for Jesus, it doesn’t matter. And that’s something we all need to remember. We are all sinners; we all carry this burden. But if we are willing to go to Jesus, he is ready to meet us and to help us. Christ will never turn away because we are too vile, or too sinful, or seemingly beyond any hope of redemption. Christ is strong enough to carry any burden we bring to him, and Christ is always willing to help us if we seek him in faith. It’s a promise that’s repeated over and over again in Scripture, God saying in essence, “Let me lift that burden for you.” And ultimately, God provided a Savior to offer forgiveness and a new beginning, which is exactly what Jesus offers this woman as he tells her, “Your sins are forgiven…go in peace.” Forgiveness is God’s answer to our disobedience and sin. Each of us has things that stick with us, that plague us, and haunt us, and consume us, but we don’t have to carry that weight on our own; God has already offered us relief through forgiveness; God has already agreed to reconcile us to himself and to one another. Christ proved that, and Christ stands prepared to free us of the weight of our sin.
And here’s the really amazing thing. Unlike Simon, standing there judging this wretched woman who has entered his home, Jesus does not count the woman’s sins. Jesus does not name the woman’s shortcomings. Jesus does not judge the woman unworthy because of her actions. He just forgives her. As she bows before him in worship and praise, he simply tells her that she is forgiven. And in so doing, he gives her a new identity; no longer is she “Sinner,” now she is “Forgiven.”
Ron Lee Davis shares a wonderful story in his book, A Forgiving God in an Unforgiving World. There was a much-loved priest in the Philippines who carried the burden of a secret sin he had committed many years earlier. Although he had led many to the mercy of Christ, he struggled with his own transgression. He had repented, but he couldn’t accept that God had forgiven him. For decades, he felt no peace.
Over time, it came to his attention that there was a woman in his parish who loved God deeply and claimed to have regular dreams and visions in which she spoke with Christ and Christ with her. People from all over the islands came to speak with her, bringing questions for her to take to the Lord and then waiting for the answers to be brought back. The priest was skeptical, but he dared to hope just a little. He decided to put this woman to the test. One day he went to her and said, “When I was back in seminary, I did something wrong. No one else knows anything about it. The next time you talk to Jesus, I would like you to ask him what that sin was. If he tells you, I’ll know you were really talking to him.” Even though he presented it as a test, in his heart of hearts the priest was really hoping that this woman might say something that would relieve the awful guilt he’d carried for all these years.
The woman went away, and the priest waited as hours turned into days and then weeks. Finally, the woman returned to him. “Well,” he asked, “did you have any of your visions? Did you speak with Jesus?”
“Yes, I did.” she responded.
“And did you talk to him…about my question?” he anxiously inquired.
“Yes,” she said, “I did.”
“Did he answer you?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, he did,” she said.
By now the priest’s heart was pounding and beads of sweat were forming at his temples. “Well, what did he say?”
“I told him, ‘My priest committed a sin when he was in seminary,’” she said, “‘He is still burdened by it. He wants to know if you know what that sin was.’ Then, Jesus looked right at me and he said, ‘Ah, yes. Your priest’s sin. Funny thing, I just don’t remember it anymore.’”
We carry these great burdens, but God in Christ Jesus is more than ready to relieve us of this weight. God in Christ Jesus has already freed us from guilt by offering grace, redemption, healing, and mercy. Forgiveness is God’s answer to our disobedience and sin. And in God’s forgiveness we will find freedom and life.
Thanks be to God!