A Most Uncomfortable Supper

Opening Reflection

Lord, God we continue to be in awe of your grace, compassion, and power.  We confess that we are not always mindful of you and your gifts.  Please forgive our neglect, Lord.

Please give comfort to all who are impacted by COVID, discrimination, and violence.  Replace the hearts of those filled with anger and hatred with the peace that passes all understanding.  Help and protect those who are striving for peace and unity.

A Most Uncomfortable Supper

A Reading from Scripture                     Luke 7:36-50               CEB

36 One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. 37 Meanwhile, 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. 38 Standing 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. 40 Jesus 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. 42 When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

44 Jesus 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. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. 47 This 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.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

On Sunday afternoon, our family will get together for a Valentine’s dinner which was postponed from last week because of the ice storm. I am certain that all of us have had enough of winter with the snow and ice. It seems like the ground and the woods have been covered with snow for more than a month and spring is still a month away. It is good to be back at church – we need stability in our life right now and having a predictable schedule is quite important.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a time for reflection and redemption, a time to draw closer to God as we ask for and receive forgiveness for our mistakes and seek to live better and love others as Jesus did. The Lenten season is 40 days plus Sundays, and we will be working with the Gospel of Luke as we look at the meals that Jesus had with others.

All of us gather with family and friends for meals – sometimes we call it the breaking of the bread. Being together with others is absolutely vital to our mental health and stability. We have companions – the word companions means — people we break bread with. During the pandemic, we have not been able to have meals with our friends and family as much as we did in the past. It has been difficult. My brother-in-law, Steve who is developmentally disabled is always asking Ann “when can we come out and have dinner at our house?” Dinner, sitting down for dinner, is so important for family life.

For the weeks of Lent, we will be looking at dinner stories that involve Jesus that we read in the Gospel of Luke. There are over seven dinner stories in Luke. Jesus was always involved with people for dinner — food and companionship was critical and formative to the ministry of Jesus. The Scripture for this morning involves a special dinner that the Pharisee Simon was holding, and Jesus had been invited. It became an uncomfortable dinner for the invited guests because of an uninvited woman who came in and disrupted the formal dinner.

A Pharisee is a religious follower of the law. He is trained to be exact in his life and not to violate any of the many laws that have evolved from the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees always criticize Jesus because Jesus breaks the laws, he works on the sabbath and he eats instead of fasting and worst of all – he heals sinners– so that Jesus can meet the needs of the people. The Pharisees always call these people “sinners” – a catch phrase for folks who do not follow the exactness of the law.

When you would have a meal back then, the guests did not sit, but reclined, at table. They lay on low couches, resting on the left elbow, leaving the right arm free, with the feet stretched out behind; and during the meal the sandals were taken off. Jesus and Simon may have just started reclining and before even the meal was served, look at what happens in Luke 7:37. An unwanted guest comes to the party. She is called a woman of the city, “who was a sinner.” Though we cannot be absolutely sure, she may have been a prostitute.

Somehow the woman heard that Jesus had a dinner appointment with a Pharisee and decided that no matter what, she must get to Jesus. Listening to Jesus in a crowd of people is not enough. Standing with the people is not enough. She needs a personal touch. She does not care where He is going to be. She does not care what He will say. It does not matter who is around and what people may think. She needs to get to Jesus. She has a holy desperation for the presence of Christ.

Look at Luke 7:38. She sees Jesus reclining. She cannot believe it is really Him. He was the only person who has the power to reach into her soul. She walks in with her eyes fixed completely on Him, her heart beating against her ribs like a caged bird and rushes to His feet. She realizes how unworthy she is and collapses at his feet. She does not know what to say. She cannot control her emotions. She does not have a bowl of water to wash his feet. The only water she has is her tears and she spills it onto His feet. She notices that she made a mess. Her tears are now mixed with the dust of His feet.

But when she is in the presence of Christ she doesn’t care what she looks like. She dries His feet with her hair. This is the same hair she used to seduce, which she now uses to serve. Kisses that were once for sale are now freely given away. She looks at His feet and she feels like she must cleanse Jesus of her unworthy kisses and so she breaks the little vial around her neck and pours the expensive perfume at his feet. She flooded that room with worship. The language Luke uses here indicates that she continuously cried and wept at His feet.

Simon welcomed Jesus into His home, but not into His heart. This woman had welcomed Jesus into her heart and now Jesus welcomes her into His presence.  She gave the best welcome in the world to Jesus, which is giving herself by laying herself down at His feet in complete submission. It was very costly, insistent, and continuous.

The Scripture from Luke is very clear. Simon did not extend the hospitality to Jesus that the woman did. Simon did not offer Jesus the water to wash his feet or the greeting kiss. Simon was very judgmental of the woman. She did not meet the model of what a woman of the first century should – she was not serving the men – she was not remaining in the background – and most of all she was a sinner.

One of the most memorable Thanksgiving dinners that Ann and I ever had was when we invited a homeless man to our Thanksgiving dinner. He ate with our family complete with the sterling silver, Waterford crystal and Lenox calendar plates. We shared our abundance and selves with him.

The men at the Westminster Rescue Mission experience the extravagant grace and love that Jesus has from them. They need that Godly grace and support as they heal from the addictions of drugs and alcohol. Many men leave the Mission healed and loudly proclaim the love of Jesus.

Jesus is demonstrating to us that it is the person – the child of God that counts. Not rules and regulations that stifle the personal love of Jesus.  Jesus wants all of God’s children to come to him – to recognize him and to be followers of Him. Jesus is saying to our church to be a welcoming church to whoever enters – and we have and continue to be blessed with that demonstrated faith that is enduring and endearing.

It may be that the woman who washed Jesus’ feet had seen him showing love to the “unlovely” people around him. It may be that this love opened her up, for the first time, to the possibility of forgiving herself. That made her risk everything. And so Jesus says of her, “Her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much.” But that was not the end of it. Jesus told the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” That word of blessing is possible for each of us as well.