Ordinary 11 Year C 2016
Love takes us in a different direction
Sometime before our Old Testament reading (1 Ki 21 v 1-21) there may have been a conversation between King Omri and his son.
‘Ahab, just come here a minute. We need to ratify the alliance between Tyre and Israel to sort out some local difficulties so I’ve arranged for you to marry someone’
‘What’s she called, what’s she like?’
‘She’s called Jezebel, I’m sure you’ll like her and get on fine. She’s got quite a strong personality and some would say she can be a bit forceful, manipulating and domineering but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. She’ll probably let you do whatever she wants. Oh, and she’ll be building a temple to Baal in Samaria, I’m sure nothing too ostentatious. There’ll be one or two prophets too, well 450 actually but I’m sure you’ll get along very well,
And as we know, Jezebel was indeed a force to be reckoned with and her impact would be felt long after Ahab’s death and his 22 year reign. It was an arranged marriage of convenience and a reign characterised by idolatry and the evil influence of Jezebel. Jezebel would have nothing of the covenant relationship dynamic which God had had with the King and the Jews, her view was that of an absolute and authoritarian monarchy.
So today’s story is not surprising and seems to be very much in character for Jezebel. What she wanted she got, and if she couldn’t have it by fair means then she would have it by foul.
As a queen she would have had seals in her own right, but why use those when you can use your husbands and implicate him in the subterfuge and murder plot.
For Jezebel and Ahab, possessions were something to acquire and accumulate. A sign of who you were and the power you had. A sign that they were at the centre of the stage and in control, and anyone who stood in their way would pay for it, sometimes with their lives as Naboth showed.
What a contrast then to the woman in the gospel story who seemingly wastes the precious possessions she had in an act of selfless giving at Simon’s house.
Earlier in the gospel we have heard of the Roman Centurion who didn’t consider himself worthy to have Jesus as a guest.
No such problem for Simon the Pharisee who invites Jesus to his home.
We might be tempted to think that this was a kind gesture, one where the Pharisees are trying to understand a little more about Jesus and His teaching. What better place and opportunity than a cosy dinner party, especially one which was observed by anyone who wanted in those days.
But we quickly see that Simon apparently doesn’t really welcome Jesus into his home. Rather he goes out of his way to humiliate Jesus, a gesture which would not have been lost on the watchers.
For contrary to custom, Simon appears not to have offered Jesus a kiss of welcome, didn’t wash his feet and dry them with a towel, and didn’t anoint his hands with some oil as they met together to eat.
Simon’s intention seems to have been to insult and humiliate Jesus, to poke fun at him so he could tell his friends about the joke when he next met with them.
The watchers would have witnessed Jesus’ apparent humiliation take place.
But one of them, who perhaps knew better than anyone else what it was like to feel humiliated, came forward and the situation went in a completely different direction.
Ignoring all social taboos she washes Jesus’ feet with the only water she has to hand, her tears. Having no towel, she dries His feet with her hair, and then anoints His feet with precious oil, probably her most valued possession.
It was taboo for a woman to touch a man in public, she did.
It was highly provocative and scandalous for her to stand over a reclining man, as Jesus was at table. She did.
A respectable woman never uncovered her hair in public as it was provocative, if she did her husband could divorce her. She did.
In contrast to Simon, the woman had poured out her love, her possessions and any scrap of reputation she had left at Jesus’ feet.
Instead of the self-grasping of Jezebel we have the self-giving of the woman who no-one thought of any value.
But this was getting even better for Simon. If Jesus was who he said He was he would surely know who this woman was and what she was like and say something, take action.
But Jesus didn’t. He simply turns to Simon and tells him a story of two people in debt and shows that the one who is let off more is more grateful than the one who was let off less.
And then He asks, ‘Do you see this woman?’ Perhaps He’s asking the question, ‘Do you see the woman or do you see her reputation?’ Do you see someone who is open enough to love in order that she can be open to forgiveness?
If we are not open to love, real love, then we are holding ourselves back in terms of knowing real forgiveness.
The different characters in all of today’s readings reflect different aspects of our selves.
We yearn to be live the woman, completely open to God’s love and showing our unlimited thanks and gratitude for it and for what Christ has done for us.
But sometimes we can be more like Simon, wanting to be seen as a generous host into God’s Kingdom for others but in reality are far less generous with our love and hospitality than we’d like to think and rather than inviting others in and accepting them as they are we want to invite them in, almost on the condition that they become like us. That’s not God’s model of the Kingdom.
Sometimes perhaps we are even a bit like those in the Old Testament who, when we want something, for whatever motives, however seemingly pure and rational, go to any lengths then to secure what we want at the expense of others, even without thinking about it at times.
Paul speaks to the Galatians. He says that all that He is and all that He has become is because of God’s love and the sacrifice His Son made for all. When we understand that everything else pales into insignificance.
The way that we grow to be more like the woman who anointed Jesus and freed to walk into the future God has for us is to do as she did, fall at the feet of Jesus, offer everything we have to Him and throw ourselves at His mercy. Open ourselves up to His love and forgiveness so we can know His love and the reality of the atonement that Paul speaks of in today’s reading from Galatians.
As we open ourselves to Him, His message to us is the same as it was to the woman. Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you, go in peace.