“Attending to Jesus”
June 12, 2016 – Year C – 4th Sunday after Pentecost
Imagine that you have been invited to dinner at Simon’s home. Among the guests is Jesus and a woman, described as a sinner. If there were other guests, we are not told about them. Reclined at a table as one did in those days, we can imagine ourselves smelling the food cooking.
But what is it about this prostitute who is anointing Jesus’ head with costly perfume, and washing his feet with water hauled from the community well? Why is she doing this? In fact, why is she invited?
Why did Simon the Pharisee even know this sinful woman, we wonder. But let’s face it, Pharisees were none too popular themselves. They were often thought of as sinners equal to the tax collectors and the prostitutes. So, we have Jesus dining with some unsavory characters.
The writer of the Gospel of Luke describes an amazingly varied group of individuals forming one new community. This is a family that stays together because it eats together. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Simon is a fabulous analyst. He apparently invited Jesus to his home in order to observe Jesus. When the sinful woman approaches Jesus, touches Jesus so incredibly intimately, and perhaps even contaminates Jesus so that he takes on the woman’s unclean status, Simon just stands back and watches. When Jesus does nothing to stop her advances, Simon comes to a conclusion about Jesus. This man cannot be a prophet, says Simon to himself. If he were, he’d know what kind of woman we have here – how inappropriate her touch is – how he is associating himself with sinners. No, thinks Simon, Jesus’s reputation is overstated. Jesus may be clever at drawing commoners and poor people, but he’s definitely not a prophet, was Simon’s conclusion!
In short, Simon has Jesus in his home, but he’s not practicing hospitality. He’s practicing analysis. Simon is building walls. Simon is separating those who belong in the community from those who don’t. Saints are in, but sinners are out. And Simon knows who fits in which category.
Unfortunately, wall-building analysis continues to produce hospitality paralysis in the church today. As the preliminaries are in full swing in the United States we have heard way too much about walls. But it is not just Donald Trump who proposes walls. There are great divides in churches today. Let’s think about ourselves. We take pride in our church being a little more liberal theologically than some of our more evangelical churches. But note how labels divide us. We face divisions because our worship service is designed to appeal to folk who love singing hymns rather than choruses – hear piano and organ rather than praise bands – hear a sermon rather than a lesson on a single scripture verse – and the list goes on. There is a wall based on age as we do not invest in staff that focus only on youth and young adults. Churches that attract young people and young families have paid staff who devote time and much energy to this age group only. While we may cry out that we would like to see more young families in our congregation, we fail to provide the kind of hospitality that attracts them. But, wow, we do ministry to older adults well!
Jesus takes Simon to task for his lack of hospitality. The writer of this account uses some rhetorical means to point out that Simon’s conclusions about Jesus couldn’t be further off target. Jesus, the prophet who is more than a prophet, not only knows what kind of a woman is touching him but also what Simon has been thinking.
Hospitality is so clearly demonstrated by the woman. The writer emphasizes her actions by having Jesus, the authority figure in the story, develop the contrast. Jesus recounts not only the woman’s hospitable, community-building actions, but also Simon’s wall-building non-hospitality.
The woman offers the model for true community. Gracious hospitality grows out of love for Jesus. Having experienced the wondrous power of Jesus, one’s heart is forever changed. Devotion to Jesus is a result of being accepted and loved into wholeness.
Hospitality is at the core of Christian living. Hospitality is the loving response of those who’ve experienced healing and forgiveness. As we read throughout the Gospel of Luke, it seems that hospitality is more easily practiced by outsiders, especially women, than by analytical insiders, who are prone to misread acts of hospitality.
Last week at our congregational meeting, we passed a motion that we would practice hospitality. Individuals and families are committing themselves to extend welcome to newcomers to the congregation by inviting them to their homes or out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner. This radical welcome is certainly an act of hospitality. But, it is far more. This is how relationships are built. This is how church family is nurtured.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela demonstrated the way hospitality breaks down walls of division. When he was inaugurated as President of South Africa after the fall of apartheid, he faced a troubling question: Who would be given the seat of honour in the first row at the inauguration ceremony? If he seated the African heads of state in the front row, he risked alienating the Western powers. If he seated the leaders of the West in the place of honour, he risked offending the Africans. Mandala reportedly resolved the problem and paved the way for reconciliation by seating his former prison guards in the front row. His administration was marked by a strategy of reconciliation.
The administration of the reign of Jesus is marked by that kind of strategy. In a few minutes we will leave this sanctuary and many of us will head to Manitou beach in Naramata. We will join our friends from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church and St. Saviour’s Anglican church in a shared picnic. Together we will live out a way of hospitality that crosses denominational boundaries. We will experience hospitality as we get to know one another in a warm, fun environment. We will extend hospitality knowing that we are loved and forgiven by God. We will participate in the gracious way of hospitality as we live out healing and reconciliation. Thanks be to God! Amen.