who is this Jesus? a healer of sin

preaching 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?

A woman anoints the feet of Jesus (Une femme oint les pieds de Jésus), James Tissot (1836-1902)

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.”[1]

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.”[2]

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,[3] 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)


[1] Emphasis, mine

[2] 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.

[3] Romans 3.23

3 thoughts on “who is this Jesus? a healer of sin

  1. I’ve read this sermon probably ten times since you posted this yesterday Paul. I keep playing over and over in my head the phrase “your sins are forgiven”. Given all that’s going on in the world today, if I close my eyes I can hear Jesus repeating the words to all of us sinners “your sins are forgiven”….over and over as each sinner passed before Him. But I have to wonder…. Especially with the number of mass shootings, would Jesus ever get tired of repeating those words and forgiving?? Does even Jesus have limits to forgiveness?? I know I reached my limits of reading about these shootings. Everyone else has held a news conference or posted their thoughts on social media, but I can’t help but wonder what in the world would Jesus be saying to us if he held a news conference today?


    • Grand question, Loretta. Indeed, what would Jesus do…say in response to unending, unyielding occasions to forgive?

      I immediately think of Jesus dying on the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not why they do.”

      Over time and on different occasions, I’ve read and understand his words in a variety of ways…

      That though Jesus knew they knew that they were killing him, in some deep measure beyond human knowing, none of us ever knows fully what we are doing. We can’t know the effect of our actions on others, no matter what we intend, for we cannot control their reactions. We cannot determine or control the scope (beginning and end of the) consequences of what we do (or don’t do). We, at least I, have learned to be suspicious of my certainty about what I’m doing, for I oft discover and continue to uncover unconscious motivations of which I, in the instant moment of acting, was not aware…

      That Jesus had to cry, call out to God, for in being killed and experiencing his dying, he had not the power in and of himself to forgive…

      That, in reading the text in the Greek, it is written in the verbal tense of continuous action, meaning that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”, over and over and over again unto his last, dying breath.

      Particularly thinking of this 3rd way of interpreting Jesus’ words, I suspect, I pray that he, in the face of all that is unholy and ungodly would (does!) continue to pray and pronounce forgiveness. Thank God!


      • Thanks Paul! Your response was most helpful for my current state of mind. Good to know that even in the worst of circumstances forgiveness is still possible.


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