June 13, 2010: A Hardened Heart Condition

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Third Sunday after Pentecost

Maybe Jesus is fashionably late. Or maybe he has second thoughts about dining with a Pharisee – no, scratch that. Jesus likes a party. He’ll socialize with anyone.

Jesus must have arrived too late for a proper welcome from his host. But maybe the host is getting cold feet. He doesn’t want to appear too gracious and chummy with someone like Jesus. If word gets out that Jesus is his dinner guest, Simon could have his Pharisee license revoked. It is pretty odd, though that Simon would invite Jesus, and Jesus would accept his dinner invitation.

Jesus slips in and takes a seat. Before the first course arrives, a woman – one of “those kind,” a person whose sins are publicly acclaimed – crashes the party. She stops behind Jesus. Conversations halt, forks drop, eyebrows raise, minds imagine. She stoops at his feet, those feet where she probably first heard God’s love and forgiveness spoken for her, rather than what she usually heard, “Sinner, Unclean.” Tonight her tears of gratitude bathe Jesus’ unwashed feet. Her loosened hair dries his feet. Then she anoints his feet with an ointment from her alabaster jar. Simon watches, at a distance, thinking to himself – “If Jesus was a real prophet he’d know who’s touching him.”

They do say, you know, Jesus is a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Tonight proves it. Jesus actually is a friend to all who open their hearts to God – offers to be with those who won’t. Doesn’t matter to him what others think. But for Simon, “that kind” will never be welcomed into God’s kingdom. Only clean people are allowed, and Simon believes himself to be clean, sin-free; so he maintains a safe distance, just in case a sinner might sneak up and touch him, and thus soil him. Given that belief, you can see when Jesus plays loose he’s appalled.

Jesus is a prophet, but not one for Simon. Simon believes if he’s a prophet he’d know she was skanky, unclean. He wouldn’t sit for such outrageous behavior. Maybe Jesus knows this woman well, and he wants us to know she’s not unclean. Jesus is a prophet, sent from God, not to condemn, but to heal, restore and bring all who hunger for divine love and forgiveness back home to God’s love.

So surprise Simon – you’re busted! Jesus the “non-prophet” overhears your secret thoughts. “Simon, come over here.” Jesus has a story to tell him. A creditor has two debtors. One owes a huge sum; the other owes him a few bucks. He forgives both debts. “So, Simon, who loves him the most?” Simon looks down at his feet – hesitates a moment, “I suppose – the one whose debt was larger.” Suppose – you suppose Simon? “Simon, you are a better businessman than that.”

Then Jesus turns to the woman, still speaking to Simon, “I came to your house and you gave me no water for my feet, no kiss for my cheek, and no oil for my head. She’s welcomed me into your house. Look closely at her, Simon. She shows how a forgiven person behaves – overflowing with love and gratitude. Her debt’s forgiven. Yours is, too – you just won’t accept my word, Simon. Think about how little you love, Simon – how great you fear someone might be a sinner.” Dinner guests mutter – “Who does he think he is forgiving sins?” And Jesus turns back to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” How she loves is evidence she’s already been forgiven before she got there. She’s close to God and free to show her love for Jesus. Simon is stuck in a state of alienation and separation from God’s heart, and doesn’t see it – even when Jesus tries to help him.

We might think about sin as the condition of living alienated, separated, and apart from God’s love and forgiveness. In our day the word “sin” means about anything and nothing. Sin has been trivialized into letting a cuss word slip out, or thinking a dirty thought, or going on through a red light when no one’s looking. Simon is devoutly religious, yet he’s so distant from God’s love. His heart is hardened, closed to Jesus’ invitation to new truth. Sin is living separated from God – even if you don’t know it.

Simon is inwardly challenged – he’s blind. By paying more attention to “that kind” of person he has little room to see his own alienation from God. Jesus loves Simon, too – and all who try so hard to be annoyingly religious. They just won’t see where love comes from. Jesus holds up a mirror up so Simon can see into his heart. He turns away. Jesus tries to get Simon to see this woman, through his eyes. He won’t – well, not yet. Maybe one day he will, and then he’ll repent and come close to God’s love. But for this moment, we don’t know. Luke says Jesus leaves to go elsewhere and proclaim God’s loving-kindness, offering God’s grace to all. But if our arms are crossed, our hands tightly shut, we won’t be able to grasp what God gives. We do realize we need God’s forgiveness and love, don’t we? We’re all a bit unclean, regardless of hard we scrub. Salvation happens when God’s love meets our need, and we receive God’s love, and rejoice wildly – getting a little teary ourselves and doing crazy things like loving each other and those we think are sinners. Looking through Jesus’ eyes helps us see we are much more alike than different.

If Jesus’ debt cancellation program means much – how do we express our gratitude and love? What will extravagant outpouring of love and gratitude look like? Maybe we anoint Jesus with our tears and gratitude when we stop seeing and naming some of His children, “those kind.” We show evidence our lives are changed when we love and forgive freely, rather than acting like superior judges holding court on those we deem sinners, or those not like us, or those we abhor. Divine love says, “Get over it.” All are guilty – all are forgiven. All are loved. So, come home. Don’t stay lost out there.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend time with a forgiven sinner in recovery, than a self-righteous religious person infected with a terminal superiority complex. They are wound so tightly – they can’t laugh and have fun. I find the most loving people I know are the ones closest to God. Pure love and gratitude, not judgment and condemnation pour from their hearts. And then there’s that party crashing woman. I suspect she’s learned to have fun and love freely– in the best sense. O my, what we might miss, what we miss when we stay stuck with a hardened heart condition. That’s a place so far from God, and yet God keeps reaching out to bring us all home.


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