The Pharisee

June 13, 2010

Today Sr. Wantabee got to give the children’s sermon at church. The story is Luke 7. Everyone is talking and trying to figure out who Jesus is. The youth driving in her car were chatting. “I like that Christmas Jesus but if he was a carpenter, why wasn’t he making chairs and supporting himself?” Who is this guy that one story before in the same chapter raised the dead son of a widow and who three stories before cured the sick servant of some Centurion? The Pharisee decided to invite him to dinner to check Jesus out personally. She related it to the World Cup going on now and everyone watching their TV and wondering who is going to win. All the gossip was about this Jesus at the time, trying to figure out if he was the new prophet to free people from Roman rule.

In any case, the Pharisee prepares a meal, Jesus arrives and shortly after a party crasher comes in. A woman of the night. How do you deal with party crashers she asked the youth. Let them have a beer, avoid a scene, and hope they disappear, right? But the lady in red did not disappear but started sobbing and crying until tears covered Jesus’ feet and she used her hair to dry them and poured perfume over them. Can you feel the social tension in this scene? This is not a cute little Christmas story. This is Jesus sitting between a Pharisee checking him out with some lady wailing at his feet and the room watching. What did he do?

As usual, he deflected the tension with a story. A banker had a visit from two customers. One owed $5 on his account but had misplaced his card and couldn’t pay but perhaps by the weekend. The Banker waved the fees and gave him an extension. The next guy came in and his house was to be forclosed on. He was unemployed and could not guarantee when he could make the next payment. The banker made an executive decision and told the man he would not forclose. Who would be forever grateful to the banker, the man with a $5 debt or the man who still had his house for his family? The youth knew for some of them live in that dynamic. The man with the house would be forever grateful to that banker that helped him.

Then Jesus turned to the Pharisee and pointed out that since he came to dinner, no water was given to wash his dusty feet, no kiss on the cheek, nor lotion for his head by the Pharisee. The woman of the night, though, had washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed his head with her perfume.

Sr. Wantabee challenged the youth, was Jesus concerned about social protocol? She did not think so. Jesus was saying that the woman who was forgiven much had engaged Jesus personally. The Pharisee who probably felt he had little to be forgiven of, had not engaged Jesus in his person but sat back and evaluated him. Likewise the audience – the disciples and other guests watched the encounter like many people today. If Jesus won the debate, pat him on the back. If the Pharisee won the debate, join his side. If it is convenient and to our benefit to present as Christians, we do but if it is socially embarrassing, we melt into the woodwork.

And so the challenge is who we identify with today during the Pentecost season: the Pharisee checking Jesus out but forgetting the basic social protocol/sins of omission, the woman of the night caught in blatant sin, or the uncommitted bystander? For any of these people, Jesus was in the room wanting to engage with them!