Writings from the ministry team
for your refreshment
Sermon – Trinity 3 – 12th June 2016 – Sin and Forgiveness
Readings: 2 Sam. 11:26 – 12:10 Nathan Rebukes David (David and Bathsheba)
Gal. 2:15-21 Paul opposes Peter
LUKE 7:36-51 8:1-3 Jesus anointed by a sinful Woman
Psalm: 32 Blessed is he whose sins are forgiven
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, Let the words I speak be your words, that all may hear your voice.
All of our readings today relate to the theme of sin and forgiveness, but I’m going to concentrate on just one, the Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman. Looking at it through western eyes it doesn’t seem such a big deal. But looking at it in relation to middle eastern traditions and culture, both back then and now, puts a whole new perspective on the reading and ultimately our understanding of it.
So let’s go through it. Jesus has been invited to dine with Simon the Pharisee. Nothing unusual about that. But these events are often quite public so there would have been a lot of people around including our sinful woman watching the proceedings. Middle eastern protocol, then and now, dictates that as a guest arrives they are greeted by their host with a kiss on the cheek, very similar to what happens here in France. Next the guest would be invited to sit on a stool and water mixed with olive oil would be brought for him to wash his hands and feet. Once this was done, the grace could be said and the guests move to take their place on the couches.
This didn’t happen. There was no welcome kiss for Jesus, and no water and oil with which to wash and purify himself. To so blatantly omit these basic common acts of welcome was a definite insult indicating that the person was not really welcome. Those people watching including our sinful woman would have noted this, and looking to see what happened next. Jesus would have been quite justified in walking out. However, he doesn’t. Instead he goes straight to the triclinium which is a large U-shaped couch and lies himself down.
This again has great significance. Tradition has it that the eldest and most senior person reclines on the couch first and the others all follow suit as age and rank dictates. Jesus would only have been about 30 at the time so it’s highly unlikely that he was the eldest person there, so by reclining first he is making a statement. He IS the senior person. Again the people watching would have seen all this and again be waiting to see what happens next.
Now our woman would also have seen all this. Middle eastern culture again does not allow for women of her nature to enter a house and mingle with honoured guest so one can assume that she has been admitted because she has repented and been forgiven. She has probably heard Jesus preaching and being so moved by it has repented of her sins and believed. She has come to personally say thank you to Jesus for freeing her from her past life and would have brought the oil to anoint his hands and head as a gesture of thanks.
Now she too would have been very familiar with the traditional welcome customs and would have realised very quickly the great insult being dealt to her Lord. So incensed is she that she decides to take things into her own hands even though by doing so she is again breaking the law. Crying, she kneels at the feet of Jesus and proceeds to wash then with her tears. Had she asked for water she would almost certainly have been forced to leave. She then does the unthinkable and lets down her hair in public, a crime even today. Did you know that Prime Minister Rafsanjani of Iran on being asked about this question of women keeping their hair covered said, and I quote ‘A woman must cover her hair because it exudes vibrations that arouses, misleads and corrupts men’! Now there’s a thought to conjure with girls.
The woman has deliberately uncovered her hair, something only done for a husband, and then uses it to dry Jesus’ feet before kissing and anointing them. At great risk to herself she is making a monumental gesture that cannot fail to be misunderstood by everyone in that room. She is making the ultimate pledge of loyalty to Jesus because of her forgiveness. Everyone is waiting to see what Jesus will do. He knows exactly what he is doing when he accepts her attentions. She has been forgiven and the more a person is forgiven the more they will love. Love is the proof of forgiveness.
Jesus then spells it out to Simon and his assembled guests with the parable of the two debtors. The person with the biggest debt is the most grateful because he has been the most irresponsible and lost the most. The person with the smaller debt probably feels just as grateful but not to the same degree.
Next Jesus does something shocking, he actually speaks to the woman, another huge no no in middle eastern culture, a man never speaks to a woman. But Jesus does and he tells her so that everyone hears, ‘Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you, go in peace’. Her sins are forgiven, and her faith has saved her. In a way he is doing what the creditor has done in the parable. He provides forgiveness to the woman and accepts her grateful response. In doing so he has confirmed to her that he is the divine presence of God amongst his people. Something that Simon and his guests have failed to grasp.
So what do we learn from this? Well firstly that not everything may be as it seems. What seemed like an oversight at first glance by Simon the Pharisee, is in fact a huge insult to Jesus. To western eyes unfamiliar with the culture probably not that big a deal, but to eastern eyes who know the rules, they would have known the insult given.
The actions of the woman may seem to us to be a bit theatrical, but are in fact very profound and likely to get her into enormous trouble. But it’s her faith in Jesus, the love she feels for the man who has set her free from her past, and his forgiveness of her sinful life that make it worth the risk.
Simon the Pharisee was a law keeper but he was also a sinner. His actions towards Jesus and his extreme rudeness only confirmed his status as such. The woman was a law breaker and a sinner many times over. Both of them needed forgiveness and both of them received it from Jesus, however the woman was the most grateful and showed it.
Jesus has forgiven the woman her many sins. Forgiveness to her is a huge thing and something she will spend the rest of her life trying to repay. Simon doesn’t appreciate he has sinned; to him he was just doing what he thought was right to expose Jesus. Even so he is forgiven by Jesus. So in some ways his forgiveness could be seen as being more significant. Jesus has forgiven Simon for something that he hasn’t really appreciated he has done or appreciated the significance of his forgiveness.
So for us today, we shouldn’t always take what we see at face value because it may not be what is intended. Sometimes we have to look deeper to find the true meaning. There’s a saying that says two wrongs don’t make a right. So if someone has done something against you don’t retaliate in kind. Forgive.
Sins or trespasses are acts that we shouldn’t commit and debts are responsibilities that we have failed to fulfil. Therefore, Sin is made up of evil deeds and the failure to do good. Now we are all guilty of sin in one form or another in varying degrees of size. It’s what we do about it that counts. The only thing to do is forgive because we are forgiven ourselves by God. As the Lord’s Prayer says quite clearly; Forgive US our sins, as we forgive everyone who sins against us.
Alexander Pope, a famous English poet once wrote ‘To err is human, to forgive divine’. Jesus is that divine forgiveness. Only he can give us our ultimate forgiveness. We are all human therefore we all err. No matter how good we think we are we are all sinners. Unfortunately it’s human nature, but that doesn’t stop us from forgiving those around us, it doesn’t stop us from being more like Jesus. Forgiveness has to come first and must be given in faith. As Jesus said, ‘those who are forgiven much, love much, those who are forgiven little, love little’. So the more you can forgive, the more love you receive.