Grumbling or grace
A young man was in the army serving in a dangerous place overseas. He had been away from home for a long time. He wrote to his mum saying, "I will be coming home soon. I don’t know exactly when but when the powers in charge here think it’s the right time, our company will be sent home.
His mum wrote telling him how excited she was and that she was preparing to have all the relatives and friends around for a ‘welcome home’ party.
The young man wrote this back to his mum. "Mum, there is one thing that I want to ask. When I do get home, the first thing I want is one of those famous meals that only you can cook (I can smell it here already as I lay here on my bunk). And I want to sit at the table with you and look at you and enjoying nothing else but the fact that we are there together. After all I’ve been through (and I have been involved in some really terrible and horrifying things), I just want to soak up the love that you have for me and share the love that I have for you. That's all I want".
There was a woman who had been involved is some really terrible and horrible things and she came to Jesus to soak up his love for her and demonstrate her love for him in the best way she knew how.
Let’s back up a bit and see what leads up to this show of love.
The gospel writer Luke (7:36-39, 44a, 47-48) tells us how two religious leaders sat down to dinner. One a Pharisee, a very pious lay religious leader called Simon who spent much of his day studying God’s Word, the other a wandering rabbi named Jesus. We aren’t told why Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner.
We learn that the welcome that Jesus got when he arrived at Simon’s place was an extremely cool one. There was no customary welcoming kiss when Jesus arrived; no washing of his feet as he entered the house; and no anointing with olive oil as was done when an honoured guest came to dinner. From this we might conclude on the one hand that Simon the Pharisee was afraid of showing too much affection in front of his fellow colleagues when he invited Jesus home to dinner. Or we might say that Simon had invited Jesus to relax at his place, have a glass of wine and something to eat with the purpose of catching Jesus saying something that would further condemn him. Maybe it was both.
No doubt, the two men were talking about religion when "a woman who lived a sinful life" entered the room. (By the way, for some reason Luke doesn’t give us her name). Luke draws our attention to the fact that she led an extraordinarily sinful life – perhaps she was a prostitute. For a woman, let alone a woman with this kind of reputation to enter the gathering of religious teachers was scandalous. Before Simon the Pharisee can say anything, quietly she falls at Jesus’ feet weeping, drying the tears that fell on his feet with her hair, kissing his feet and pouring expensive oil on his tired feet.
I think you can see the contrasting image that we have here of the way Simon the Pharisee and the "sinful woman" welcomed Jesus that day. The welcome this sinful woman gave was emotional, affectionate, and loving. In contrast to the woman, Simon’s heart was icy cold.
That brings me to the second contrast. Simon the Pharisee could only see this dirty disgusting woman touching Jesus. He could only think of what others will say when they hear that this sinful woman had been at his house. He can’t understand why Jesus is allowing this to happen. And deliberately says out loud, "If this man really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him; he would know what kind of sinful life she lives!"
Jesus’ attitude to the sinful woman is so different. "What do you see?" Jesus asked Simon. "Do you see before you a woman; a person with fears, loves, hopes, dreams and feelings? Or do you see someone who is disgusting, and dirty; someone who offends you?
Do you see a person who needs to be loved? Or only a problem that needs to be tossed out into the street.
Do you see a person who needs to be helped, to be welcomed and embraced? Or do you only see the ugliness of her sin?
We may think very poorly of Simon for his attitude and prejudice. And rightly so! His attitude stinks!
But Simon is only doing what we do so easily and without thinking. It’s so easy to prejudge people, to show prejudice. What do you see when you look at a homeless person, a street kid, a drunk, an immigrant, a refugee? What do you see when a person asks you for a dollar for a sandwich, or a mother who is unable to buy food or adequate clothes for her children?
If anyone had the right to brush away the repulsive, it was Jesus, the sinless, perfect, pure Son of God. But he didn’t. Simon the Pharisee would have avoided having anything to do with her as if she had the bubonic plague. He could only see her disgusting sin. Jesus on the other hand, looked past the dirt and filth and saw a woman who needed his help. And she got it! "Your sins are forgiven", he says. Jesus loved this woman even though she had no right to expect anything from him. Jesus forgave her many and terrible sins. This is God’s grace at work. Grace sees more than our sin; it sees a child in need of his love and forgiveness.
In the Old Testament we read that "People judge others by what they look like, but I judge people by what is in their hearts" (1 Sam 16:7 CEV). Where Simon the Pharisee saw only a disgusting prostitute and terrible sinner, Jesus could see a child weeping at his feet, needing his help and love. He had the ability to see beyond the sin and degradation of her life. He had the ability to see the marvellous potential that lay within her.
The challenge that confronts us this morning is: how well are we doing at seeing beyond the sinner and loving the person. We might say, "Well it’s easy for Jesus to do this, after all he is God. We know from the Bible that our behaviour repulses him on the one hand, but on the other, he loves us. Even though our sinfulness upsets him, he will not give upon us. If it weren’t for God’s grace, none of us would have any hope of eternal life.
At our baptism, God came to us and through the water and his Word claimed us as his own people, promised to love us and forgive always, to guide us on our journey through this life. He continues to do this every day of our lives. Even though we are sinners, because of his grace he can still see us as his dear children.
That’s all right for God, but darn hard for us." And you’re right. Too often we are more like Simon the Pharisee, we condemn, and prejudge people too easily. There seems to be something in our sinful nature that wants to wipe people off as hopeless and irresponsible and to have nothing more to do with them.
We see someone living and sleeping in the streets and we say, "That’s their own fault" and walk away. That may be true, but Jesus challenges us to see them as he sees them.
Someone tells us a hard luck story and we judge them as hopeless and useless. That may be true; Jesus challenges us to see them as he sees them.
Someone aggravates you, gets on your nerves, and when you see that person coming you duck out of sight. That person may be aggravating but Jesus wants us to see a person like that as he sees them.
We see people starving in a country overseas and we have little sympathy because the government of that country has wasted all of its resources on civil war. That might be true, but Jesus wants us to see those people with the same eyes he sees them.
In every case, he sees them as his children, needing help and love. He sees you as just the right person to share with them some of the grace and love and understanding and tolerance that Jesus has shown toward us.
The unique aspect that we find in the Christian Gospel is the whole idea of grace – it is the core and centre of everything the Bible has to say about God. He doesn’t love us because we are especially loveable, but because we aren’t. He loves us and wants all of us to be in his family, to have eternal life. Not everyone accepts this gracious offer from God; some ignore him all their life, some never come near the church between their baptism and their funeral, but God still makes the offer. Even when we put on airs, judge others, turn our backs on those in need, or whatever, he still sees us as his children. He patiently and lovingly keeps on offering his love and forgiveness. Jesus tells us plainly here that our love for him is directly related to the forgiveness we receive from him.
May our prayer be today, Lord, help us not to be like Simon the Pharisee look down on those whom the world regards as hopeless and evil, but to see them as you see us – people who are loved by you. Amen.
The Grace of God – Andy Stanley
Grace – Max Lucado
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Grace and Forgiveness - Carol Arnott, John Arnott
In the Grip of Grace – Max Lucado
The Grace of Giving – John Stott & Chris Wright
The Grace of Yielding – Derek Prince