She had lived a whole life as an atheist. Her parents never took her to church or had her baptized, not because they were lazy, but because they were True Unbelievers. She had been around the world traveling to countries ravaged by violence and war; seeing the best of humanity and the worst of it. And, she was still an unbeliever.
Until she found herself in an odd little Episcopal church in San Fransisco. And someone handed her a piece of bread and told her it was the Body of Christ. And when she took that first bite, her life was changed forever.
And it wasn’t just that she believed in her mind and heart, but her faith-filled mind and heart impelled her body to live out her faith. As she had been fed, she turned around and saw other hungry people – and she felt moved to feed them.
To make a long story short, she started a food pantry that functioned more like a church, like a liturgy, than anything else. And the work she did, she saw as holy work. And the food she handed out she saw as holy food. And the people who came to work, and the people who came to
receive, she saw as holy people.
It’s a remarkable read, and I highly recommend it.
In Luke chapter 7, a Pharisee invites Jesus to eat with him. It’s a startling reversal to invite the man who breaks bread, who changes water into wine, and who feeds the multitudes – to dinner.
It would be like inviting Bobby Flay to your barbecue.
And yet, on the surface, inviting Jesus into your home, and to your table, is such a wonderful thing! I mean, that’s what discipleship is supposed to be! That’s what a life of faith looks like. It’s the gesture that we’re supposed to do.
We SHOULD be inviting Jesus to our home. To our table. Into our lives.
And that’s exactly what this funny little Pharisee does.
And then there’s this other wonderful icon of discipleship, in this woman who comes with a costly jar of ointment, and she begins to anoint Jesus with it.
Of course, Jesus is the “messiah,” which literally means “anointed one,” and so it all makes sense. And then in an amazingly tender moment she begins to wash the feet of the Anointed One with her own very tears. And she dries his feet with her hair. And she continues to anoint him with the ointment.
Stop reading this passage like it’s “The Holy Bible” for a moment, and just read it for what it is. This is as intimate an offering that we have in the Bible. It’s the burning bush in reverse – humanity approaching the Divine with tender openness.
She is pouring herself out to him, with all that she is, and all that she has.
Again, in this passage, we have another picture-perfect model of discipleship.
Had the story ended here, preachers around the world for the last two millennia would have been exhorting the faithful gathered to live like the Pharisee, to live like the woman. We’d say “Open your homes for him! Set him a table! Anoint his head, and his feet! Bathe him in your very tears!”
But, the story doesn’t end there. Because the Pharisee has to open up his mouth and ruin it all.
Like the old adage goes he snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
He scolds Jesus for hanging out with riff-raff like this woman, for she is a ‘sinner.’
Had he just kept his mouth shut he’d probably have gotten some churches named after him throughout Christendom. He’d have been people’s favorite patron saint.
But, alas, no.
I love Jesus’ response to the audacity of this man. He doesn’t answer him directly, but he begins telling a parable to Peter – loud enough for all to hear, of course!
Jesus is here for the sinners. And if that isn’t abundantly clear already, at the end of the passage we’re told that after this Mary Magdalene from whom ‘seven spirits had gone out’ of began going around with him.
The Kingdom of God is for riff-raff.
This is uncomfortable to me. Because I’ve tried very hard in my life NOT to be riff-raff. As I’ve lived my life, entered adulthood, and joined the League of Parents I’ve tried as hard as I can to be as respectable as possible.
I try hard not to disrespect the unrespectable, but I also try and keep a comfortable distance, because that sort of thing rubs off, you know.
But, our Lord has a soft spot for the unrespectable. They’re his people. Yes, yes, Jesus doesn’t play favorites. . . But he does really.
And the sinful, the ridiculous, the bumped and bruised, the picked on, and the scorned are his people, without a doubt.
Not that he doesn’t hang with the respectable as well – like having dinner with a Pharisee, or befriending Joseph of Arimathea.
It’s just that the only respectable people that Jesus seems to tolerate are the ones who know that their respectableness is all a load of hooey.
We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and the distance between the respectable and the unrespectable is nonexistent in the eyes of God.
Had the Pharisee looked with fondness upon the sinful woman who began to anoint Jesus, and offered her a chair and a meal – as he had welcomed Jesus – this story would have had a happier ending, and Jesus wouldn’t have had to lob a parable like a grenade across the table to Peter.
Had he realized in this woman was not only a icon of discipleship, but also an Icon of Jesus, himself. . . well this guy might have gotten some churches named after him.
And here’s where the icon of discipleship in this passage shines through – The disciple invites Jesus in. Gives him a chair at the table. And eats holy food, realizing that holy people have gathered. And when the wine is poured, and the tears are poured, and the air is thick with incense and ointment the disciple realizes that it’s only Jesus who is holy, and the door needs to be always open for the lost.
And the rest of us, are ‘with her,’ the sinner.