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Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, June 12, 2016

There are some amazing narratives in the Bible, never more than the two stories we hear today.  The story of Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel and the unlucky vineyard owner, Naboth.  I almost feel sorry for Ahab;  he didn’t know that Jezebel had Naboth killed under his supposed orders.  But he is ready enough to profit from Naboth’s death.   Elijah’s death-sentence pronouncement to Ahab is chilling.

Today’s Gospel is just as compelling.  Jesus is asked to dine in the house of a Pharisee, who seems suspicious of Jesus’ ministry.  So do Simon’s friends, probably all Pharisees, all of them part of the religious establishment.

Suddenly a woman enters the scene; she is known as a “sinner” (does that mean prostitute?).  This is unusual in several ways.  First of all, she was not an invited guest.  More importantly, no woman was to consort with a man not her husband or member of immediate family.  Let alone to touch a man.  Let alone anoint and kiss his feet!

Jesus accepts her loving care and goes even further.  He declares to the woman “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Simon’s Pharisee’s friends don’t like that much. 

Jesus has already said, “Simon, I have something to say to you…” and told a telling parable.  Then he says, “Do you see this woman?   I entered your house; you gave no water for my feet; but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.” He concludes by saying, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves littles.”

This is already the stuff of drama.  But sometimes, don’t you wish we could hear the thoughts and feelings of the characters in Bible stories?  So, with your indulgence, I offer some possibilities… 

Here’s Simon, the Pharisee, the “host” of the dinner party:

“Well, I just wanted to see this so-called ‘prophet’ close-up.  Jesus is a real danger to everything we stand for and the delicate balance with our Roman oppressors.  Jesus is the last thing we need.

“I couldn’t believe that Jesus would even speak to that woman who interrupted my dinner!  That sinner!  I should have had her thrown out immediately.  But she rushed to Jesus and began that ridiculous display.  Who is Jesus, really?  One of her clients?  Who does she think she is?  Who does he think he is?

“I don’t understand that story Jesus told me…  the one about who is more grateful.  I’m very grateful for my standing in this community!   I’m admired and emulated, and I think our community is doing as well as it can.  Who is Jesus to complain?”

Now let’s hear from the woman who is unnamed…

“I don’t have a name in Luke’s story;  just call me ‘Rachel’.  I am a young widow.  After my husband died, there was no male relative to take me in.  I was on my own.

“ I didn’t want to do what I did and I hated myself for it.  But I had to live and take care of my baby son.  When I saw Jesus, really by accident, I felt he was speaking just to me.  And he was speaking to me; inviting me to find another way, a better way;  a way I could claim my identity and my pride.

“I knew I didn’t belong among all those Pharisees;  they really frighten me.  I felt their icy stares as I entered the room and found my way to Jesus.   Jesus!   He seemed enveloped by pure light, pure love… though I did notice a hint of frustration with his host.

“I just stayed focused on my mission:  to show my gratitude and love for Jesus, for his showing me a new way and a new life.  For showing me who I really am.

“I’m not sure what will happen now.  I’m not sure how I’ll keep my baby and me alive.  The charity of others only goes so far.  But I know I will not, I cannot, return to old ways.  Somehow I’ll find a way through.”

I wonder what Jesus was feeling at the time?  Perhaps something like this…

“I know full well why Simon asked me here.  It wasn’t to hear about God’s amazing forgiveness and love.  It was to test me.  After all, I don’t have his ‘credentials’;  I’m not a Pharisee.  I just preach and teach and heal in the name of God’s love.  Well, I guess I failed Simon’s test.

“I sensed Rachel even before she entered the room.  I felt her love.  I felt her gratitude.  When she came into the room I saw the look of disgust on the faces of the men.  And I knew how afraid she was.  Still she walked right up to me, fell on her knees and began to anoint me, tears of regret and joy streaming over her face.

“I tried to tell Simon a story he might connect with, but he didn’t get it.  They usually don’t, these Pharisees.  They’re just so tied to custom and tradition and the way things have always been.

“I’m left feeling sad, but I’m hopeful, too.  I’m Sad for Simon and his friends, who are intent on keeping things safe.  They don’t want to be challenged to change for the better.   But I’m hopeful for Rachel, who has discovered the force of love that dwells within her.  She’s not going to compromise that love.

AMEN

     -- Reverend Dr. Anne Gavin Ritchie