Sunday, June 13, 2010

Proper 6

Luke 7
40Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Tell me, teacher," he said.
41"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44Then 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. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

People who can barely drive
People who fail to poop and scoop
People who yell at their kids in the supermarket
People who pollute
People who pollute and ride in corporate jets
People dumb enough to make a fake lake
People who judge others
(Wait, that last one is me)

The reading this morning is one of those busy, multi-layered passages that tries to do a lot. Luke has a knack for complex structure: a setting, some players, a tension, a short parable, some interpretation, and a conclusion. For those of us who enjoy our scripture in tiny, bite-sized pieces, this mornings passage poses a bit of a challenge.

Preachers who complain about preaching.

There’s another for the list. But I’m not complaining, so much as “highlighting” the unique struggle of the contemporary preacher to bring the Word in these complex, post-modern times. To cut through the din of ten thousand vuvuzela to make oneself heard.

People who blow the vuvuzela
People who only follow sports during international events
People who don’t cheer for my teams, which are in order of DNA, Holland, England, and Ghana. Okay, so I have no real Ghanaian DNA, only loyalty to my friends.

Judgement, it seems, has a strange circular element to it. The moment we start judging, we inevitable end up looking at ourselves. “Judge not,” Jesus said, “that ye be not judged.” (Mt 7.1) Notice the ‘ye’ makes it sound more convincing, something moralists have long known.


The reading is all about judging, some hidden and some not so hidden. We’ll go from obvious to less obvious.

Everyone is judging this poor woman, over-wrought, making a display of her devotion, wasting ointment (again), and (one would assume) making the teacher uncomfortable.

Everyone is thinking what Simon the Pharisee is thinking, that if Jesus had any idea who was touching him at this moment, he would make her stop. Surely his prophetic powers extend to detecting the common sinner.

Now everyone is thinking “finally, an explanation.” Jesus will make us see what on earth he’s doing. "Simon,” Jesus says, “I have something to say to you."

"Teacher," Simon replied, "Speak."

The parable is a classic. It involves money, it involves people entrusted with money that fail to live up to their responsibility, and it involves forgiveness. But the classic element is the emotional journey we take as we listen in:

Two people owe a debt to a moneylender: The first owes a year-and-a-half salary and another a couple of months. (Significant amounts, we think, even for the second guy)

The debts are forgiven (who is this moneylender, and what was he thinking, that’s very generous!)

Which one will love the moneylender more? (the answer is obvious)

Simon says, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

Remember the pattern of parables, the pattern that makes them work. The parable creates a world, which then sours, and then creates a new world, most often shining with the light the Kingdom.

Simon understands that he is the lesser debtor. Whatever sins he has managed are minor. He is a member of a religious party, and leading citizen, someone adept at following the Law. Even if he’s a not-so-nice guy, he would still imagine himself as good, and therefore the lesser debtor.

Simon knows (without even being told) that human nature is such that he loves less because he has been forgiven less. He can’t summon the extravagant display of gratitude even though he knew that his sins (whether great or little) were forgiven too. And notice that he doesn’t object to the forgiving, as the others do, only the scale of sin Jesus chooses to forgive.

But there is more: an entire other layer of judging, this time judging us. The clue is in the first line of the passage: “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table.”

Immediately there is a little voice inside saying either “no, Jesus, it’s a trap!” or “Jesus, what are you thinking, eating and drinking with a Pharisee?” The judgement begins even before the story begins, because we have been hardwired to read Pharisee and imagine a maiden on the tracks and plenty of mustache fiddling.

But we can read into the text that they are friends. They are on a first name basis, Simon calls him “teacher,” a name of great respect. Jesus takes Simon seriously enough to share a parable, and Jesus is comfortable enough with Simon to offer a gentle rebuke. There is no great confrontation recorded at the end of the passage, only the mumbling of others.

Like a funhouse mirror, the judgment is reflected all over, the cause and the appropriateness is distorted, and we end up looking in the mirror at ourselves. Jesus is a Jew, with religious friends, who often disagree, but care for each other nonetheless. Imagine how the history of Christian-Jewish relations would have unfolded if this were more fully understood.


All this judgement is making me tired, and a little hungry, so I’ll stop now.

For you fans of new country, you might recognize these lines:

God will, but I won’t
God does, but I don’t
And that the difference
Between God and me.

While not noted as a theologian, Lyle Lovett hits the nail on the head. God’s business is forgiveness, and we dabble. God’s primary way of meeting us frail creatures is through forgiving our frailty: and we struggle to keep up. What God says in Jesus is this: you are forgiven, nothing more, nothing less. (Wm. Countryman)

We might be leaving our tears on the dusty feet of the Saviour, or we might be scratching our head like Simon, or we might be in the murmuring crowd, or we might be late for the party. Either way, or whatever way we meet Jesus, the message is the same, then as now: "Your sins are forgiven."


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