Monday, June 13, 2016

Sermon on Luke 7:36-50, for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, "If you had eyes like me..."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Jesus came to the house of Simon the Pharisee for a feast. It appears that Simon and the other guests wanted to search out and listen to this important new teacher, Jesus, and decide for themselves whether or not He was a true prophet from God. Last week crowds declared Jesus was a great prophet, when they saw Him raise the young boy from the dead. Now the religious authorities are inspecting Jesus’ teaching over a meal. Along with the invited guests reclining at the table, there appears to have been other strangers and bystanders who came in, including one woman standing behind Jesus. She is described as a “woman of the city, who was a sinner.”
Quite unexpectedly, she begins to perform an extravagant act of hospitality and love toward Jesus, to the shock and dismay of Simon, the host of the banquet. With great splashes of her tears falling on Jesus’ feet, she bows before Him with a jar of ointment, and washes His feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses His feet, and anoints them with ointment. Can you imagine either doing this for someone in front of a room full of guests; or receiving such an act? Our thoughts about it might not differ too much from those of the guests or host. Simon says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” Simon makes a big, and very wrong assumption—that if Jesus saw things the way that Simon did, He would refuse this lavish act from the woman. “If you had eyes like me…” he seems to say, “you’d see what sort of sinner this is…” and then what? Jesus would scorn her like him? Jesus would rebuke her? Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t see her through Simon’s eyes.
Simon assumes he has better eyesight and understanding than Jesus—perhaps because he knows or recognizes the reputation of this woman. How often are we like Simon, thinking to ourselves, “If only you had eyes like me…”? Our eyes are cast in judgment on a person whom we think is unworthy of God’s grace. Or unworthy of our friendship, or sympathy or help. Forgetting that we are all unworthy of God’s grace. Forgetting the compassion that Jesus taught us. Our eyes are turned in anger or bitterness against someone for a real or perceived wrong. Forgetting our greater debt before God. We think, “I know how you should see this! The same way I do! With disapproval!” But fortunately, Jesus doesn’t see others through our eyes. His eyes are not tinted by rose colored glasses, nor are they tinted by resentment or selfishness. They see clearly, with infinite perception, and they are full of compassion.
Jesus graciously receives the unexpected hospitality of the woman, and defends her by telling a parable. Simon suspects Jesus can’t be a prophet because He can’t see this woman is a sinner. But what will Simon think when Jesus speaks directly to the private question on Simon’s heart? Simon is scornful of Jesus, that He doesn’t have eyes like him, to know better—but Jesus responds in His own way, as if to say to Simon, “Ah, but if you had eyes like me….!” Jesus has no trouble seeing the sinfulness of the woman, or of any person, for that matter. Jesus needed no special instruction about the nature of humankind, our jealousies, our secret and public sins, our pride or our hidden ambitions. He sees right into the heart—of Simon, of the woman, of you and I as well. It was not Jesus who needed a vision correction—it’s Simon and we who need one!
Jesus tells a simple parable, of two debts being cancelled and forgiven, one ten times greater than the first. In doing so, Jesus invites us to see through His eyes. To understand that the size and number of our sins (represented by the debt), is not the obstacle to God’s grace, but rather it’s our attitude towards God’s grace that presents the biggest obstacle. Simon was acting like one who had little (if anything) to be forgiven. Either we desire God’s grace and are receptive to it, or we scorn God’s grace and don’t see our need for it. Either we repent and receive His grace, or we are unrepentant and do not receive it. The one who is forgiven much loves the master more—the one who is forgiven little, loves little. Greater love and gratitude towards God, pour out from the ones who have had a greater debt of sin forgiven.
The woman wept profusely over Jesus’ feet, as she washed them. Did she cry in sorrow for her sins, or in gratitude to the Savior of sinners—or both? Do our eyes weep for our sin—or are we blind to how our sins grieve God and hurt one another? All of the Scripture readings today take sin seriously—but this one especially reminds us to take our own sin seriously—not just somebody else’s sin. We should weep that our sins grieve God and hurt our neighbor. We should regret that we have been thoughtless or uncaring, or that our love for God has been too small.  
But Jesus offers us His own eyes, to see and recognize that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. This also moves us to show grace to others, as grace has been shown to us. Jesus leads us to call others to the grace of God, by repentance and the forgiveness of sins, not to keep them from it. None of us stand higher or above another, such that our own goodness puts us in better standing than the stranger whose sin might seem apparent to others. We are not judged or forgiven in the court of human opinion, but before God. Only Jesus can forgive us our sins and put us in right standing before God, as St. Paul teaches in Galatians. It’s only by faith—trust in Jesus—that we are justified or found innocent before God.
Doubtless the woman’s tears also flowed in great thankfulness, as she, more than all the others in that room, knew the cost of her own debt, and her unworthiness to receive grace from God. Freely receiving grace and Jesus’ forgiveness, she showed great love and gratitude by honoring Jesus as she was able, and giving Him the hospitality He had not received from Simon. How does our heart pour forth in thankfulness to Jesus? Have we been forgiven little, or forgiven much? Do we love little, or much? It helps to understand how undeserving we are, and the greatness of God’s forgiveness. Nothing required that God cancel our debt—but simply His great mercy and love. Growing deeper in this knowledge helps us, not only to praise God with greater thanks, but also to see others with the eyes of Jesus—having a heart that desires all sinners to come to repentance and the knowledge of the truth.
What of Jesus’ criticism of Simon’s hospitality? He praises the woman’s great love, but exposes Simon’s lack of hospitality toward Him. Jesus wasn’t demanding extraordinary treatment, but asking why the common courtesies normally extended to an honored guest, were ignored by Simon. Was this an act of great rudeness for Jesus to rebuke Simon, his host? Or had Simon been rude to Jesus? Was Jesus’ rebuke, the rebuke of an enemy, or of a faithful friend? The answer lies in whether Jesus was aiming at humiliating Simon or helping Simon to gain wisdom. Was Jesus trying to help or to hurt? The Proverbs give us some help. Proverbs 9:7–9 says, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” A wise or righteous man welcomes a reproof, so that he may grow still wiser. Do we welcome the reproofs of God’s Word, or do we hate them?
Proverbs 27:5–6 says,  Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Jesus faced Simon as a friend, with an open rebuke. Though His words may have stung, they were faithful, to teach Simon wisdom and a Christ-like love. Far better than empty flattery, or hidden love, Jesus was helping Simon to address the poverty of his love and the blindness of his eyes to his own sin. Jesus wants Simon too, to find the way to true righteousness by faith in Him.
Jesus’ parting words to the woman are, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The woman must have known she stood on hostile ground that day, with the burning eyes of Simon and the others cutting into her. But her faith, her eyes, were locked on Jesus, her advocate, her Savior. She needed only His forgiveness, His approval. And she had it that day, when she came in humility and faith to Him, and showed Him selfless love. We have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ brings us the forgiveness of our sins. He stands before the Father to intercede for our great debt of sins, and by trusting in Jesus, we are saved. We can have His approval, His justification, when we believe in Him. We can go in the peace of the forgiveness of sins—being reconciled with God. The peace of God is to know that God’s judgment against our sin has been stayed by Jesus’ death on the cross. He has taken away our debt, and frees us to stand before Him as the forgiven, the redeemed, the justified. Knowing this great grace of our God, let us praise His Name and make His love known to all generations! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. A Pharisee named Simon hosts Jesus as a guest at a banquet in his home, in Luke 7:36-50. What seems to have been his intention, from the way he evaluates Jesus, and listens to Him?
  2. Simon quickly comes to the conclusion that Jesus must not be what? Why does he think so? Why are the actions of the woman shocking to the guests? Was Jesus blind to the fact that she was a sinner, as Simon seems to think?
  3. What is Jesus point in His parable, about the forgiveness of the two debts? When Simon judges the question correctly, in vs. 42-43, how has he also judged himself? (Cf. 2 Samuel 11:5-7).
  4. Is great love the response to having many sins forgiven, or are many sins forgiven because someone shows great love? Which is the cause, and which the effect?
  5. Jesus addresses the criticism of Simon’s heart by comparing his failure in hospitality to the lavish hospitality of the woman, who was not even host of the meal. What conventional courtesies to Jesus had Simon neglected?
  6. Jesus first speaks of the woman’s forgiveness to Simon, but then turns to her and addresses it personally to her as well. What burdens were released from her in that moment? Why is the word of forgiveness such a treasured gift?
  7. Was Jesus’ rebuke to Simon, in both his judgmentalism and his lack of hospitality, the words of a faithful friend, or of an enemy set to demean him before his guests? Proverbs 9:7-9; 17:10; 27:5-6; 28:23.
  8. How do we get the “eyes of Jesus”, to see others? How does it change the way we view and welcome others? Whose sin should we take most seriously and be concerned the most about? Where is the source of the great forgiveness that can produce a great love in us?

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