Do you see them?

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV) Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The latest edition to the collection of the Superman movies hit theaters this past Friday and as is often the case, people lined up to be among the firsts to catch a glimpse of Man of Steel at 12:01 am.

I enjoy a good comic book movie. I appreciate superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, and Wonder Woman. But let’s be honest, nobody can hold a candle to Superman. So while I was not among those standing in line at midnight this past Thursday night/Friday morning, I do plan to see Man of Steel…when it comes out on Netflix.

Superman appeals to me because he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He fights for truth, justice, and the American way — whatever that means. And pacifists like me appreciate superheroes like Superman that can resolve conflict without killing his enemies (okay, he is a little more violent than I am comfortable with, but this is fiction, right?).

However, Superman is not invincible. We all know Superman’s weakness is kryptonite. This glowing, greenish rock, which is harmless to us earthlings, causes Superman to become weak and vulnerable. But Superman also has an additional shortcoming to his super powers. While Superman has the ability to see through most objects, there is one metal that blocks his vision every time: lead.

I came across an interesting discussion on the internet the other day as one person asked, Why can’t Superman see through lead?  I had never before given it any thought, but it seems to be a good question. Lead isn’t that dense of a material. There are heavier and harder metals out there. But I realized the reason as I went to the dentist this past week.

As I sat in that un-easy chair, waiting for my cleaning, the hygienist requested a picture of my teeth. I gave my consent and she pulled out a camera attached to a long arm. She placed it against my cheek and made me bite a piece of who-knows what. Then, before she snapped the picture, she placed a heavy vest over my body.

The picture that she was taking was obviously an x-ray. The vest that they put over your body is lined with lead. Lead blocks x-rays. The reason Superman can see through most things is because he has x-ray vision. Therefore, Superman cannot see through lead because lead stops x-rays.

I have had the chance to know some super men and super women in the church during my days. I have met pious men who wake up at 5:00 am to study the Bible and pray. I have met faithful women who advocate for laws against human trafficking. There are Christians today who tend to rise up, achieving far more for the kingdom of God than most others. But all super men and super women have their kryptonite; all super men and super women have their lead. It is the lead that I wish to focus on this morning because lead blocks our vision, keeping us all from seeing people as God sees them.

Our text for today is perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of grace that I can find in all of the Bible. Luke tells us that Jesus was joining a Pharisee by the name of Simon at his home for a meal. That alone is an important detail that I think we too often overlook. We talk about Jesus dining with the tax collectors, prostitutes, and the sinners, but he also broke bread with the religious elite.  He was an equal opportunity diner.

As they sat down at the table, a woman entered the house of Simon the Pharisee bringing with her a jar of perfume. I don’t know why they didn’t have the doors closed, but she found her way in, regardless.

This woman then takes this bottle of perfume and anoints Jesus’ feet. She weeps as she does so, and wipes up the mixture of tears and perfume with her hair. She even kisses those dirty feet, a sign of deep appreciation and affection.

But who was this woman? Luke simply tells us that she was a “sinful woman.” We do not know what her sin was, but this word, ἁμαρτωλός, was often used to describe people of Jewish descent who did not keep the Torah.

Simon the Pharisee is disgusted by this! These actions even make him call Jesus’ prophetic ability into question. He says, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

She is a sinner. She is unclean. And by touching Jesus, he too becomes unclean. This woman just ruined their dinner plans by touching Jesus. Jesus can’t even eat with these Jewish men until he performs the ceremonial washing and until after sundown (I think). I can see Simon just throwing up his hands and screaming, “It’s ruined. Everything is ruined now.”

It is clear from the scriptures that Jesus valued people more than he valued dinner parties. So he tries to explain his actions to Simon with a parable: There are two men that owe money to a lender. One owes about two years’ worth of wages. The other owes about two months’ wages. When neither could pay, the lender just forgave them both their debts.

Now, Jesus asks, who will appreciate the gift more?

It is clear that this woman had a spirit of humility and repentance. She knew that she had done wrong and she wanted to change her life. And she knew that new life could be found in Jesus. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is right about this. The one who has been forgiven for much will be all the more thankful.

But notice that Simon wanted to deny her the chance to meet Jesus. He wanted to prevent her from even having access to him.

I doubt that Simon thought he was perfect. However, I am sure that he assumed he was better than her. Anything that he did was minor compared to this sinful woman, right? Only he, Simon the Pharisee, deserved to eat with Jesus. Not this Torah-denying, Temple-avoiding sinful woman.

In the book of 1 Timothy there is a strange verse that just doesn’t seem to make sense at face value. Chapter 1, verse 15 says, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

Was Paul really the worst of all sinners? I can’t imagine that he was. Sure, he did some bad things, even encouraging the killing of Christians. But I would think that Nero, Pontius Pilate, and many other Romans were a lot worse in that area than Paul.

As we read through Paul’s letters, we find that Paul is very aware of some of the sins going on in the world around him. He knows about the son who is having sexual relations with his step mother. He knows about idolatry. He knows about the widows and orphans that are being neglected. And he says that he is the worst of all sinners?

No, I think that what Paul is saying is that we are to remember that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and that no one is better than anyone else because they keep a few more of the rules or hide their shortcomings better. Paul is exemplifying a spirit of humility in recognizing that he is no better than the other sinners out there that he is ministering to.

I think that this is a good corrective to the way we tend to see others. When we compare our sins, which are puny, to the sins of others, which are huge, we tend to see people as insignificant, or at least less valuable than we are. This seems to be something that Jesus lifts out as well.

In verse 44 Jesus asks a simple question that we can easily miss if we go too quickly. He says, “Do you see this woman?”

Of course Simon saw her. He was the one that pointed out that Jesus must not know what kind of woman she truly is! But I don’t think Jesus was asking if Simon saw a female in front of him. Jesus was asking Simon if he saw a human being created in the image of God before him.

You see, much like lead can block Superman’s x-ray vision, sin can block our ability to see the beauty in all people and their need for Jesus. The sins of others prevent us from seeing them as Jesus sees them and our sins prevent us from seeing others as Jesus sees them.

I have yet to figure out which does a better job of blocking.

I recently heard a favorite pastor of mine sharing an experience about judging others in a public place and it really hit home for me. I believe that he was able to achieve his goal in preaching this message because his words came back to me just as I was going through the same thing. See http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon/the-worst-of-sinners

Two weeks ago I was on the “bad side” of town. Now, our city really doesn’t have a good side and a bad side. There is indeed a railroad tracks that runs through Staunton, but I’m not sure which side of the tracks is the wrong side. Anyway, I was in a lower-income part of town and I needed to pick up some groceries. There was a grocery store there, so I thought, Why not?

We tend to pick up our groceries at the nice, new grocery store where middle class, educated, privileged people like myself tend to shop. I didn’t make it into the store before I started to judge people. I saw their cars. I saw the jacked-up, rusted out pickup and said, There’s a redneck if I ever saw one. I saw the SUV with tinted windows and chrome rims taller than my daughter and I said to myself, Drug dealer.

            I went inside and it just continued. I saw the woman with teased-out hair, too much makeup, and a bit of an orange glow to her skin and I thought, Aren’t you trying a little too hard? There was the guy with the big arms and the tiny shirt, and I’m thinking, Who are you trying to impress? Put some clothes on!

The pastor that I heard use a similar example was sitting in a mall when he caught himself judging others and he said a person walked by carrying a Bible, and he thought to himself, Look at you with your smug little grin. I bet you are just going around judging people, aren’t you! I think that was when it hit him that judging was exactly what he was doing as well. And it was in remembering his sermon that I realized  that I, too, was putting a worth upon someone based on their outward appearance and what I perceived to be their lifestyle of choice.

We don’t see people. We see their clothes, their cars, their makeup and we make snap judgments based on what we perceive. We attempt to gain worth in our own eyes by judging ourselves to be better than others.

But do we really see them?

I read a story this week written by a woman named Jamie. Jamie writes under the moniker “The Very Worst Missionary,” a title I believe she bestowed upon herself while she served as a missionary in Costa Rica. Based on her writings I can assure you that she is not the worst missionary by a longshot, but she may not fit the typical mold and expectations of what a missionary should look like, do, and say.

In this post, Jamie was reflecting on an experience from about eight years ago, before she went into the mission field. She was on the staff of a large church at the time. She begins by telling about how she just needed to run into her office quick to retrieve something so she went to the church in her frumpy sweat pants with her hair pulled up and face clear of any makeup. She didn’t want to be seen, and she did not expect to interact with anyone.

However, as she was running back through the lobby, almost back to her car, she saw an unfamiliar face peering through the window. Jamie considered pretending that she did not see the woman and just continue on to her car as she had planned. But she could tell that the woman needed something, so she let her in.

Jamie writes that the person outside the church lobby was a beautiful young woman with a look of brokenness upon her face. I’ll let Jamie tell the story:

She told me she didn’t know why she was there, she’d never stepped foot in a church before, she didn’t know where else to go. She was lost, she said. Tears began to well in her dazed eyes, and the purpose of her visit came with them. “I got hammered last night… and I [slept with] my husband’s best friend.” Those terrible words were holding in so much, and that’s all it took for the flood gates to open and a tormented soul to pour out on the floor, right there in front of me.

She cried. I cried. We cried… together… which sounds kinda weird, but it wasn’t.

She talked. I listened.

And I totally want to tell you how I gave her some brilliant words of wisdom, or some bit of truth to hold on to. But I. Did. Not. Know. What. To. Say…

So I just sat there, feeling inadequate. And scummy.

And she sat there, feeling inadequate. And probably super scummy.

We met each other where we were at in the most primal way because there was nothing false between us. No pretense, no makeup, no shoes. …Ok. She had shoes… But what more could we have done than sit and cry and talk and listen? http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2013/06/wheres-sanctuary.html

Who was more like Jesus, the guy judging others because of how they were dressed or what they drove to the grocery store or the woman who sat, listened to, and cried with an adulterous stranger?

Simon the Pharisee attempted to deny a person who sought to repent and be forgiven for her sinfulness the opportunity to meet Jesus. I judge people, like Simon, making it even more unlikely that they will seek to know our lord. It is my prayer that when a sinful man or woman approaches us that we will not allow their sin or ours to keep us from seeing them as Jesus see them so that when Jesus asks, Do you see them? We can say, Yes Lord, I do.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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