a sermon, based on Luke 7.36-8.3, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, June 12, 2016
Today, we continue with the third of four meditations, each an answer to the question: Who is this Jesus? Two Sundays ago, a healer of the body. Last Sunday, a healer of the dead.
Simon, a Pharisee, a member of that political, social, religious group in Judaism greatly observant of the Torah, particularly concerning ritual purity, invites Jesus to dinner. Hearing of this teacher, this miracle-worker, Simon, wondering who Jesus is, desires to see for himself. Is Simon earnest? Is he open to what he may discover about Jesus? Or is he skeptical, settled in his mind that Jesus is a potential threat to the order of things, thus set on unmasking, exposing Jesus as a menace to all that is holy?
Jesus barely takes his place at the table when enters a party-crasher. Not a late-arriving guest, but “a woman in the city who was a sinner.” We are not told the nature of her sin. However, clearly, it was known throughout the community. For Simon, beholding the outrageous sight of the disruption of his dinner party in his home, is sure Jesus is no prophet for he does know “what kind of woman this is.”
There’s more. The woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and continues kissing his feet, anointing them with ointment. Her act is wholly submissive, even slavish, and scandalous. For to unbind her hair in public is a shocking impropriety and to touch the feet of a stranger and a man, a salacious intimacy.
Jesus is neither dismayed nor dismissive. The woman somehow knows who he is. Even more, she somehow trusts in God’s all-encompassing, ever-ready acceptance that never rejects anything, anyone God has created. Still more, she somehow knows that God’s love, though unconditional, must be welcomed, received. In this knowledge, this faith she has offered to Jesus the holy, extravagant service of her grateful love. His response of recognition: “Your sins are forgiven.”
There’s more. Before Jesus pronounces this word of divine pardon, he tells a story of two debtors. One greater. One lesser. Both insolvent, unable to satisfy their liabilities, which their creditor cancels. Which debtor will love the creditor more? Simon is seemingly unaware that he, in his scathing condemnation of the woman, beside whom he considers himself righteous, thus, needing little forgiveness, is the debtor who, by his choosing, loves less. Nevertheless, he answers Jesus “rightly.”
Who is this Jesus? The forgiver of our sins. For we are like the woman. We, unfailingly unrighteous or, in the words of Paul, sinners who fall short of the glory of God, bear the unpayable debt of our continually conditional faithfulness to our God whose love for us is constantly unconditional. And, like the woman, we can experience healing when we render to Jesus the submissive, slavish, scandalous offering of our grateful love.
Illustration: A woman anoints the feet of Jesus (Une femme oint les pieds de Jésus), James Tissot (1836-1902)
 Emphasis, mine
 However, in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18.21-35), we see a case in which one who has been pardoned a great debt shows no forgiveness to another whose liability is vastly smaller; thus demonstrating, I think, that there is no inherent causal relation between mercy and gratitude.
 Romans 3.23