|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on June 17, 2013 at 11:45 AM|
They stopped using her name around town. She was only known as “that woman.” Parents told their kids to stay away from her. She wasn’t invited into people’s homes. People didn’t speak to her if they could avoid it. She was an example not to follow, not a woman to be spoken to. No one saw her face anymore, they only saw her sin. Her whole life was defined by what she had done wrong. And people expected her to just keep messing up.
Everyone but Jesus. Jesus sees this woman’s need to be forgiven and set free from her past. He forgives this one because shame and sin had robbed her of love and life. Her sin had cut her off from the community and had taken away who she was. So Jesus set her free and loved her back into life.
And that all happened in a moment we don’t even see- it happened before we meet her this morning. We don’t know what Jesus said to this woman. How he was able to let her know that she was set free. We don’t know what he did to tell her the good news that we all long to hear- the things that trap us and keep us walled from others are done away with, that the shame and the fear and the unworthiness that we live with are destroyed. Jesus had done something to let this woman know that she was loved and she was no longer defined by her past. That she was delighted in, she was believed in and God trusted and knew that she could be changed.
I don’t know what those words of Jesus were, but maybe it’s not ours to know. Those words that set us free are so personal, so unique, that Jesus’ words to this woman may mean nothing to us. But they meant a new life for this woman.
And we know they meant new life for her because this morning, we see the new life that had been broken open inside her. She shows up in the middle of a respectable dinner party to do the unthinkable- to cry tears of joy on Jesus and care for him in ways that were, frankly, awkward and out of place. In ways that made others whisper and stare. As ridiculous as it is, she comes to pour out the love that Jesus has given to her. It simply flows out since she has been given a new life.
But Jesus simply smiles. Instead of whispering about her, he honors her. Loudly and publicly. Honor the beauty of her repentance and joy. And Jesus lets her gift, however awkward and strange it is to those around her, be celebrated and rejoiced in. Jesus delights in the fact that this woman knows the truth he brings for all people- that she is treasured and she can live in that love to be all that God created her to be.
And from now on, in her community she will no longer be the one called sinner, but the one who loves Jesus well. She will now be the one known for how well she loved and welcomed Jesus and she will be one who is an example of love for all of us. Her story has changed into God’s story for her.
And this story in Scripture would be great if it stopped there. But it would have been a story that many of us could ignore. Because although we’ve all messed up, many of us in this room haven’t done things that are so sinful that they define us publicly. Many of us have followed the rules well enough that we still have the luxury of covering up our sins. We have the luxury of feeling that we’re doing well enough. Like Simon the Pharisee, the man who invited Jesus to dinner that day.
But Jesus doesn’t leave well enough alone even with those of us who look like we have it together. He has an annoying way of knowing what’s going on in our minds and he knows that Simon is looking down on this woman, even if he doesn’t mean to. Jesus knows that Simon sees himself as different than her, as more deserving of Jesus’ attention and maybe his love. So Jesus does what he does best to teach us- he tells Simon a story. Suppose someone owes $500 and another owes $5 million. And they both are forgiven. Who will love the one who forgives their debt more? Whose life will be changed more? Who will know the reality of being set free more?
And if someone who has written a bad check and another has gambled away his life savings and both are forgiven, who will understand the joy of forgiveness more? And if someone had said something mean to their spouse and another had completely destroyed their relationship and both are forgiven and given another chance at love, who will feel the reality of that love more? Who will know better the reality of a love they have no right to deserve? Who will be able to get caught up in the utter joy of forgiveness? Who will understand what it means to have life given back to them, life in my name?
Jesus tells Simon- someone who has been forgiven a great debt knows what it means to be set free. Knows what abundant life is because it’s something they didn’t think they’d ever have. They know what forgiveness can do, how it can change their lives. They have felt love and forgiveness and life at the depth of their soul.
I want you to feel like that, too. I want you to be set free, set on fire, to live life out of a love so remarkable that it gives you your life back. Because that is the love that I am.
Yes, you’ve done well in following God’s law, Simon. I’m not disputing that. I take joy in that. But when you haven’t fallen into such a desperate place, you also haven’t been in a place where you can understand the love I have for you that changes all that is possible for you in the future. I’m not saying that you need to sin in order to get to a desperate place, but stop and rejoice with this one who was there. Learn from her how good and freeing my love is.
So Jesus tells Simon and many of us, “I know the good you have done. I know you’re pretty decent at following the rules and that you’re doing pretty well not getting into big trouble. But the thing is, I’m not keeping score of that. I just want you to fall in love with me. So that you can live out of that love.
The rules you are working hard to live by are important, but only because they point to how to live out love. So, ditch the rules and surrender yourself to the love I have for you. Not a sentimental love- but one that allows you to do anything for the life of another. A death-defying, life-giving, extravagant love. It is beautiful and strange and world-changing.
This kind of love is terrifying and makes you leave behind all that you hold onto to keep you safe. It makes you do things that will make people stare and makes you do more wondrous things that you can imagine. It breaks you open and frees you and changes your life.
Jesus tells Simon and all of us, I want to call you to a love that you do not know yet. I am calling you to be passionately in love with the world and with me. And the only way you’re going to do that is to be in the presence of someone who knows what that love feels like.
So when you don’t have a clue how to surrender to that love, then watch your sister. She’s met this love and she’s been set free. This love has become her story and her life. So listen to her and watch her and learn from her.
Jesus tells us the surprising truth that we need our brothers and sisters- all those who have traveled more painful paths than we might have and messed up more than we have. We need this beloved woman who we don’t want to be near and who interrupts our comfortable dinner. Jesus tells us that we cannot be whole without her.
We don’t need her so that we can do good things for her. We don’t need her so that we can save her. We need her to teach us what love looks like. To break us open. To make us long for the same kind of love that she has felt.
So perhaps instead of praying that God would keep us safe, we should pray that God would make us love like this woman. Perhaps we should be praying that God would surround us with people who have been broken and then healed. Take us to those places where we can meet our brothers and sisters who have been transformed by your love. Perhaps we should pray to be broken open with the reality of God’s love for us. And when we are in love with you, God, make it consume us so that we can let it overflow in ridiculous ways.
Make us fall so in love with you that we welcome those who are left out. That we rejoice in those who no one loves. That we speak joy to those who have no hope left. That we step into violent places believing there can be peace. And that we delight in those who have no clue how much God already delights in them.
So let us pray, take us to broken places, Lord, so that we may learn what your love is. So that we may see your love at work. So that we may learn from our brothers and sisters. So that we might fall in love with you and lose ourselves in your love for us.