This sermon explores the story of Simon’s dinner party in Luke 7:36-50. Why was the woman considered a sinner? How should we deal with labels in our society, and who is welcome at the table?
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Imagine that you have the opportunity to throw a dinner party at your house for a well-known person that you really respect. You want to make a good impression. You want that person to meet your family and think well of you.
And you pray that your uncle doesn’t show up. It seems like every family has that one relative. You know, that uncle or cousin who shows up either drunk, wasted, begging for money, or bragging about the latest tawdry affair.
So, the day comes. Your guests are all there. The special guest is settled in and seems to be enjoying himself.
Then it happens. Your uncle barges in, “Hey, the party has arrived!”
How do you feel in that moment?
Turn to a neighbor and tell them.
I think that might be how Simon felt in our story today.
Today we look at an interesting story found in Luke 7:36-50. I invite you to open there. It is on page 941 in your pew Bibles.
Here’s the basic story. We have three main characters.
First, there’s Simon. He’s a Pharisee. He is a respected leader in the community.
There’s something we need to get clear about the Pharisees. Their goal was not to be self-righteous jerks. They cared very deeply about the safety and future of their country. They believed that the reason the Roman Empire was occupying their land and oppressing their people was because the people had fallen away from obeying God’s Law given to Moses.
They were on a campaign to clean up the country in order to open up a pathway for God’s blessing to return to the nation.
They heard claims that Jesus might be the Messiah, so Simon is checking it out.
Second, we have Jesus. He’s been wandering around the countryside, performing miracles and proclaiming a radical new teaching about God’s Kingdom.
Finally, we have a woman. We don’t know much about her, except that she is known as a “sinner.”
She barges into the dinner party and Simon has that moment that we just discussed. “What is SHE doing here?”
Then she proceeds to break all the rules about men and women contact. She shows her hair. She touches Jesus’ feet. She washes his feet with her tears and anoints them with oil.
This is nothing less than scandalous and a complete disgrace.
Simon watches this and realizes that there is no way Jesus is from God if he allows this kind of behavior.
So, what’s going on in this story?
I think we need to frame this story in two ways. First, look at the verses immediately before it in Luke 7:31-35. Remember that last week, Pastor Mark taught us about the doubts that John the Baptist had. Jesus seems to be a little bit frustrated about how some people are interpreting his and John’s ministry so far.
He analyzes the “people of this generation” which includes people like Simon the Pharisee. They can’t be satisfied. They are looking for the wrong thing.
John the Baptist came with fasting and a really harsh message of repentance and they said he was demon possessed.
Jesus, the Son of Man, came eating and drinking with people and they call him a glutton, a drunkard, and a “friend of sinners.”
But then Jesus says, “Wisdom–the thing they claim to be seeking–will be vindicated.”
I think that this story is really dealing with a core human question. What is good and bad? How do we determine right from wrong? What is sin?
This is where we must turn to the second frame for this story. It concludes the larger section of chapters 6 and 7. Chapter 6 provides Jesus’ teaching ABOUT right and wrong and chapter 7 demonstrates what Jesus’ teaching looks like in real life.
Turn back a page and look at chapter 6.
Jesus reverses the conventional wisdom. He blesses the down-and-outers and curses the exalted.
He says to love your enemies,
not judge your neighor.
Because goodness is not determined by external behaviors, but by the intent of the heart. Good trees produce good fruit and
a life built on the wisdom of God stands strong.
Chapter 7 demonstrates what Jesus’ teaching looks like lived out.
The Centurion’s faith, Jesus’ compassion on the widow,
John’s doubt in contrast to Jesus’ compassion, and, now,
this story of the fruit bearing witness to the heart.
Before we return to the story, let’s get a little theological and talk about sin…
This is an important topic in our society. How do we think about sin?
On one side, some people make it about the “righteous person” vs. the “sinner.” It is us against them. The “us” is determined by a list of rules and behaviors that define “righteous” and the “them” is defined by those who don’t follow the list.
Here’s the irony of that view. It all depends upon the list you are using as to who is “righteous” and who is a “sinner.” We see this in the conservative vs. liberal polarization in our nation. “Liberals” are sinners in the eyes of the conservative and “Conservatives” are sinners in the eyes of the liberal.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the concept of “sin” is not a helpful one. It is all about God’s love. We must love and accept everyone, just the way they are.
Love gets reduced to tolerance.
The problem with this view is that… really? We will accept any and all behavior? I don’t think so.
We all have lines we must draw regarding behavior that is not acceptable, based upon what we believe is right and wrong. If we’re honest.
What if there is a third way?
What if it isn’t “us vs. them” but is “us vs. Sin?” We–all of humanity–are a messy, mixed bag of righteous and sinful. Martin Luther said that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.
Like the Apostle Paul said in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short.” Then in Romans 3:24, he said, “all are justified by his grace as a gift.”
The Apostle Paul said, in Ephesians 6:10-12 that our enemy is not other humans (blood and flesh) but against the forces of evil at work in the world. We must stand against Sin and help each other to be set free from the chains of destructive behavior.
back to the story. Jesus tells a parable…
Jesus looks at Simon and tells him a parable. A creditor had two debtors. One owed 50 and the other owed 500.
Neither could repay their debt, so the debtor cancels the debt. Let that soak in. Why would a creditor do that? It’s crazy.
The one who was forgiven little is like, “hey, thanks.”
The one who is forgiven the back breaking debt is a new person. They’ve been set free. This is a radical life change. “Woo-hoo! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!”
Then he spanks Simon. Jesus offers a painful review of the “fruit” of their actions.
Simon, I came into your house and you did not offer water to wash my feet. You did not greet me with a kiss. You did not offer me oil to make me smell better. These are customary things that you do to extend hospitality.
In other words, you were rude.
She, on the other hand, the “sinner” lavished love and hospitality on me.
perhaps Simon’s problem was that he did not acknowledge that even a “little” debt is still SIN.
Then Jesus looks at the “sinner.” Your sins are forgiven.
But, Wisdom is vindicated by ALL her children.