Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 7:36--8:3, The Message or Luke 7:36--8:3, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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Meal times are rich with assumed, unspoken, expectations and customs. And meals with invited guests are even more so. What food will be served? What drink will be served? Who will sit beside whom? In what order will people be served? What will be "polite" conversation? What thanks are to be offered? To whom? By whom? Etc. Fortunately, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh give helpful background on first century meals. (See footnote below.)
This lesson from Luke both reveals and takes for granted many such meal time customs in Jesus' day.
In Jesus' day, there were no paved roads, no socks, and no running water. So it was an expectation that a host would provide guests with a servant to wash the guests' feet on their arrival, and provide some scented ointment for their hair.
Meals were served onto low tables, and the guests would lie on sofas, propped on their left side, taking and eating food from serving dishes with their right hands. Only men would eat together. Women would enter the room only to serve food. They would not talk with the men. And a woman would always have her hair covered, and would never directly speak to or touch a man in public.
Thus, when the woman in this story comes into the room where the men are eating, she is violating a huge standard of socially respectable behaviour for a woman - just by being in the room.
I wonder why she is weeping? For joy? For sorrow? For loss? For repentance? For relief?
What she does is shocking. Washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Touching him with her hair. Anointing him with ointment. But then, she is already a woman with a reputation. She has no "good name" left to lose.
But what about Jesus? Any proper man would have re-acted with outrage and anger at her behaviour. Any proper man would have absolutely prevented the way she touches him in public. Allowing this behaviour tars Jesus with the same reputation as the woman touching him. And if left unchallenged would bring dishonour on the host as well.
However, an interesting twist takes place. Just as the host is thinking to himself, "Doesn't Jesus know what sort of person this woman is," Jesus tells a story to make plain that he does indeed know what sort of woman she is, and more than that, knows what sort of person his host is as well. Ouch.
Only Luke reports this event in Jesus' ministry. I wonder why?
Certainly Luke was from the same social class as the Pharisee in the story.
I wonder if this story was particularly poignant for him? Reminding him - and causing him in turn to remind us - that God's care, love and forgiveness is for all - without distinction.
But not without inequality. All are forgiven, but not all are forgiven equally, because some have greater debts, and God's forgiveness is never partial, never half way, never with a hidden catch. It is always total, whole, full and complete. Ouch.
It is good news that my debts are forgiven, but hard to hear that someone else's much larger debt is also totally forgiven.
And yet, it is exactly this good news of God's hospitality being extended to all without distinction that was one of the marks of the new community of those who followed the Way of Jesus.
I wonder what our churches would be like today if we could fully live this hospitality? I wonder if others would still find that distinctive and attractive?
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (see link below), pages 255-257.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
Luke 7:36 -- 8:3 (NRSV)
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner." 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." 41 "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" 43 Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." 48 Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" 50 And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
8:1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 7:36 -- 8:3 (The Message)
36 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee's house and sat down at the dinner table. 37 Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume 38 and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him."
40 Jesus said to him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."
"Oh? Tell me."
41 "Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. 42 Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?"
43 Simon answered, "I suppose the one who was forgiven the most."
"That's right," said Jesus. 44 Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, "Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn't quit kissing my feet. 46 You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. 47 Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal."
48 Then he spoke to her: "I forgive your sins."
49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: "Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!"
50 He ignored them and said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
8:1 He continued according to plan, traveled to town after town, village after village, preaching God's kingdom, spreading the Message. The Twelve were with him. 2 There were also some women in their company who had been healed of various evil afflictions and illnesses: Mary, the one called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out; 3 Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's manager; and Susanna—along with many others who used their considerable means to provide for the company.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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