Sunday, June 16, 2013

She Loved Because She Was Forgiven

Sermon on Luke 7:36 – 8:3
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 16, 2013 (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost)

What’s she doing here?  She doesn’t belong here!  This is a holy and righteous house, because I am a holy and righteous man, and it’s my house.  She wasn’t invited, but she came in anyway, which only goes to show that she doesn’t have any sense of propriety or courtesy whatsoever, on top of the fact that she is a notorious sinner.  Hey, what’s she doing?  She’s wiping that controversial Rabbi’s feet with her hair!  Why is he letting her do that?  It’s bad enough that the woman is making a scene, but she herself is already an outcast from polite society.  Well, this pretty much confirms what most of the other Pharisees have been saying about him.  Not only is he not the Messiah, he’s not even a prophet.  If he were, he would know what kind of woman it is who is touching him.

We can imagine these kinds of things running through Simon’s head as he watched the scene that took place in his house in our text.  To us, who know the whole story, it is easy to sit there in the church pews and tell ourselves that we would never have reacted like Simon did.  After all, Simon was a self-righteous Pharisee, who couldn’t even see the fact that he himself was a sinner.  We wouldn’t be like that.  We wouldn’t treat the woman the way he treated him.  We wouldn’t judge God Himself the way he did.  Um, wait a minute.  Did you notice that this sounds an awful lot like what Simon himself said in our text?  In fact, the very fact that we can sit here and say that we are better than Simon proves that we are just like him, because we are doing to him what he did to the woman in our text.

The woman, on the other hand, is a different story.  She couldn’t fool herself or anyone else for that matter into thinking that she was basically a good person.  She knew what she was, namely a sinner.  We don’t know exactly what her sin was.  Many scholars have said that she was a prostitute or an adulteress, but the text doesn’t actually say that.  The fact that many people assume that her sin was a sexual, really tells us more about what is going on in their own heads than it does about this woman.  It doesn’t really matter what the woman’s sin was.  All we know is that she was known in this city as a notorious sinner.  And because she was known publicly as a sinner, she couldn’t escape the verdict of the Law.  She was a sinner.  It didn’t matter that those who talked about her behind her back and who judged her by their attitude toward her were just as much sinners as she was; it was still true that she was a sinner.  Because she did not have the luxury many people have of ignoring their own sinfulness, she had no choice but to recognize it and repent of it.

Even though she had a bad reputation in that city, she evidently still continued to come to hear the preaching of the Scriptures, and in those Scriptures she had learned that God would send a Messiah to take away the guilt of her sin.  She knew that it didn’t matter what the other people in the Synagogue thought of her, she just came to hear the Word of God, which was the whole purpose of the Synagogue.  When Jesus came to the town, she recognized Him as the Messiah who was going to take away her guilt and punishment, and she couldn’t thank Him enough for this precious gift of salvation which He would give her by dying on the cross.  She ends up making quite an embarrassing scene at Simon’s house as she tries to show her gratitude for everything Jesus has done for her.  But again it doesn’t matter to her what others think; she has found the one thing needful and is willing to do anything to show Him her love and gratitude.

Of course the difference between Simon and the woman is not that one of them was better than the other; they were both sinners.  Yes, Jesus seems to imply by the way He tells the parable that Simon is less of a sinner than the woman is, but that’s not really what he’s saying.  Simon was just as bad a sinner as the woman was; in fact Simon was far worse.  The woman had probably committed some external sin against one of the Fourth through Tenth commandments, perhaps the Sixth, but like I said we don’t know for sure, but Simon by his self-righteousness was breaking the First Commandment.  By treating the Son of God with contempt and not even extending Him the most basic hospitality, Simon was blaspheming God.  This was certainly a lot worse than whatever it was that the woman had done.  So this wasn’t the difference between them.

The difference between them was that the woman had been brought by the Holy Spirit to a knowledge of her sin and more importantly faith in her Savior, while Simon thought that he was a righteous man and didn’t need a Savior.  It has been said that if you want a real Jesus, then you’ve got to be a real sinner, and that if you think that you’re only a superficial, mild sinner, then you only get a superficial, weak Savior.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we ought to go out and commit some really big sin so that God will have something big to forgive.  What it means is that we already are great big sinners, and in fact if you don’t think you are a sinner you’re probably the worst sinner of all, if you were only able to see it and confess it.  Self-righteousness and reliance on your own goodness is a much worse sin than adultery, murder, and stealing put together.  The woman’s great love for Jesus was caused by His great love for her in dying on the cross.  Simon showed very little love for Jesus because he was unable to recognize and receive the love Jesus showed him.

By God’s grace the Holy Spirit has brought us to a knowledge of how great our sin is, and along with that a recognition of how great our Lord’s love is.  We are like the woman in our text, not afraid to be called a sinner, not afraid to do something that other people will think of as strange or embarrassing, because our Lord is the only one who matters to us.  Worldly people think that it’s weird that we all get up every Sunday morning to come to Church.  They think it’s stupid to give money to the Church and not get anything tangible in return, simply so that the building can be kept up and the minister can buy groceries and eat.  Even among Christians there are those who think that we Lutherans are a little strange because of the way we worship; instead of putting on a big, exciting production we do basically the same thing Sunday after Sunday, sing some songs together and even do this weird old thing we call “chanting.”  Even our everyday lives seem a little strange to worldly people; instead of putting ourselves first we live to serve our neighbor and help him in his every need.  But like the woman in today’s Gospel lesson, it’s not so important to us what everyone else thinks of us; we simply want to show our love and gratitude to our Lord in the best way we know how.  And the best way we know how is to hear His Word and to repeat back to Him what He has first said to us, as we do in the historic liturgy, and to serve Him by serving those around us who need our help.  Instead of serving our own selfish wants and tastes, we join with the Church of all times and places around the throne of the Lamb, receiving what He has to give us, and confessing back to Him what He has first said to us.  We show our love and gratitude to Him also in the way we serve our neighbor, and in so doing we serve God Himself, as God serves them through us.  The Christian life of worship and service to the neighbor might not make much sense to selfish, worldly people, but it is the life that God has given us in Holy Baptism.  It is the life that is caused by Christ’s great love which He has shown us in the forgiveness of our sins, and it is a life that will culminate in eternal life with Him.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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