Pentecost 4

So “a dog walks into the post office and says, “I want to send a telegram,” and the guy says, “OK, what do you want to say?” And the dog says, “I want to say, ‘Woof woof. Woof, woof, woof. Woof woof. Woof woof.’” And the man says, “OK, that’s fine, but for the same price you can put another ‘woof’ in there.” And the dog says, “Yeah, but that wouldn’t make any sense.”1

You ever feel like you hear a reading from the Bible and it doesn’t make any sense? I sometimes feel like that, if only because, as God Himself told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Sometimes you need a little context to understand what’s going on, like in today’s Gospel lesson.

Now by the time we catch up with Jesus today, as Edward Markquart tells us, “Jesus had this running conflict with the Pharisees. The Pharisees and their self righteous attitudes were always running into conflict with Jesus on several occasions, and in the story for today, we discover that Jesus was invited to the home of none other than Simon the Pharisee. Jesus was invited to the home of a Pharisee, the Pharisees whom he had recently insulted and told that sinners and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of heaven before they would. In other words, the scene is set for a further confrontation.

“Jesus was invited into the home of Simon the Pharisee for a banquet. Now, let’s pause for a moment. Jesus would have been invited into Simon’s home which means he would have been invited into a large open courtyard of the house. The people there were not merely having a dinner; they were having a banquet. A banquet meant that the table and home were filled with people. Jesus was a well known big shot by then. It would be like having Billy Graham come to dinner, and that would have been very special. To have the most famous rabbi in the country come to dinner was very special and everyone would have been excited…and nervous at the same time, because of the earlier conflicts that Jesus had had with many of guests whom we assume were Pharisees.”2

At these banquets, when guests arrived they would have been treated like royalty, their hands and feet washed and rubbed with oil, expansive greetings from the host and hostess, and on and on. Jesus, despite being Jesus, apparently wasn’t offered any of these kindnesses, He was snubbed by the very people who had invited Him to banquet.

That would have been strange, but then things got really strange. A woman who had been a known issue in town, a woman of the town, so to speak, a prostitute, enters the party uninvited; she sneaked over to Jesus, carrying fragrant oils, sadness, and gratitude. This sinful woman had undoubtedly repented and changed her life and wished to show her gratitude to Jesus who had rescued her.3 She does just that, washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, rubbing in oils that gave comfort and healing.

All this was scandalous, of course, but Jesus turned this little scandal into a teaching moment for those present and then turned to the woman and said “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” No one knows what happened to this woman, except that she left that dinner forgiven, faithful, and in peace.

Writer “Fred Craddock wonders where one goes when told to go in peace as Jesus instructs this woman to do at the end of our story. “What she needs,” Craddock says, “is a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners. The story,” he says, “screams the need for a church,”4 a church that’s open to the city and all her inhabitants, a church that takes in the prostitute and the Pharisee, a church where Jesus is. I think that sounds like our church, at least I hope it does. The question becomes, What are we doing to make our church that church?

1Sarah Lyall, London correspondent for the New York Times ;
2Edward Markquart, The Pharisee and the Prostitute;
3Robertson’s Word Pictures.
4The Rev. James T Moore, A Place of Welcome, Day 1;

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