"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."
Season of Pentecost
Sunday Between June 12 to June 18 Inclusive
Proper 6, Ordinary Time 11
June 13, 2010, Third Sunday After Pentecost
Click here, Luke 7:36--8:3, for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this note.
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, et. al., gives 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?
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, 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.
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