So imagine you are invited to a dinner party at the home of the richest, most prominent person in Bordentown. Not only is this guy rich and powerful, but he’s also a priest at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, following in the footsteps of his powerful priestly forefathers. You get there a little early and grab a drink in the sitting room, and then the guest of honor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, arrives. But instead of our powerful priestly host hanging up the Archbishop’s coat and getting him a glass of wine, the host gives Tutu a plastic cup full of skunked beer and tells him there’s nowhere he can get cleaned up – the bathroom is off limits. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, then the town hooker shows up, half dressed and carrying a Louis Vuitton bag full of diamonds.
“Scandal!” you say. Well, that’s essentially the story we just heard from St. Luke. Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee, a rather well off Pharisee with a big house, named Simon. When Jesus showed up, He was immediately shown to His seat, which sounds nice until you realize that no one had shown Him the courtesy of washing His feet, the ancient equivalent of locking the bathroom door and telling your guest to man-up about it. And then, seriously, a random hooker somehow managed to get into Simon the Pharisee’s house. A hooker carrying an alabaster jar of ointment, of expensive oil, a woman who should not be able to afford the cab fare to the Pharisee’s house yet was in possession of a major luxury item, walked through the door and made her way straight to Jesus.
Now some of you right now may be thinking “I can’t believe Fr. Matt is talking about hookers,” while others among you might be thinking “Hey, cool, Fr. Matt is talking about hookers.” But seriously, it’s women like that hooker who make up the Kingdom of Heaven. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating hooking as a profession or even a hobby. What I am advocating, rather, is what that woman did that night at dinner.
So what did she do? St. Luke tells us that she stood behind Jesus at His feet, at His filthy, dung-covered feet, she stood there weeping, and she 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. But that’s not really what Luke is reporting. What that woman really did that night was see what the Pharisee’s could not or would not see; that woman, that woman of ill repute, that woman who was for all the world invisible, dispensable, that woman saw Jesus for who He really is. That woman sought forgiveness, she sought her salvation, she sought out the only Person who would see her for who she could be. She risked ridicule and resentment, she risked charges of unlawful entry, she risked her life to see God sitting at a table eating supper, and she was not disappointed.
“Do you see this woman?” Jesus asked Simon. “I entered your house,” Jesus said; “you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 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.”
How often do people come to this church with tears in their eyes, their lives in their hands like so much oil in alabaster jars. How often do the broken, the lonely, the dispensable, the notorious sinners come into this church seeking forgiveness, seeking salvation, seeking the one Person who can see them for who they could be, who can see them as He made them. Sometimes they come on a Sunday morning or a Saturday night, but more often they come at random times, at seemingly inconvenient times, driven to this place by the hope that they too will be forgiven of much, by the hope that they too will love much. And to such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
I won’t be with you these next couple of weeks, but Fr. Salmon will come and go to this altar on your behalf, he will come and seek out Christ with you. I don’t know if he’ll talk about hookers or not – I wouldn’t put it past him – but I want you to think about the woman from this episode in Jesus’ life for a while. I want you to wonder if we are truly any different than that woman, if our sins are any less grievous, if our lives are any less broken. And then think with me for a while about the last time we risked ridicule or embarrassment, the last time any of us risked anything at all just to see the face of Jesus, to weep at His feet, to hear Him say “Go in peace; your sins are forgiven.” One day I hope all of us will meet that remarkable, broken, forgiven women of former ill repute. For to such is the Kingdom of Heaven.