Often Enough

Luke 7:36 – 8:3  – The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, June 16, 2013

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him…” (Luke 7:36)

Drum roll.

Trumpet fanfare.

Applause.

The Gospel of Luke and its affiliates proudly present:

THE PHARISEE AND THE WHORE*

These are the players . . .

  1. Simon, the Pharisee.
  2. Jesus.
  3. An unnamed whore**.
  4. And those at the table.

This is what happened . . .

  1. Simon asked Jesus to his home for a meal.

    How 'bout if I just dress up in this Pharisee costume? At least I could rent one for special occasions . . .
    How ’bout if I just dress up in this Pharisee costume? At least I could rent one for special occasions . . .
  2. The whore arrived uninvited and bathed Jesus’ feet with ointment from an alabaster jar, her tears and kisses.
  3. The Pharisee was ________*** by the woman’s actions. Simon wondered if Jesus knew a sinner’s hands had touched him.
  4. Jesus regaled his dinner companions with a tale about forgiving sins. And to cap the evening off, Jesus noted Simon had treated him like dirt, while the whore honored him.
  5. Jesus, after the story within the story, forgave the whore’s sins.
  6. Those at the table grumbled and Luke’s chapter ended.

So what came next for Simon the Pharisee, Jesus, the whore and those at the table?

* I’m not happy with the title. It needs more oomph.

** Luke’s Gospel refers to her as “a sinner.” Maybe she stole bread from the farmer’s market or cheated her boss out of money or worked on the Sabbath. Then or now, there are many ways to sin. But, if only to enhance the story’s drama, to add a whiff of titillating sex like in a bad Hollywood movie, I’ll call her a whore. It’s fine with me if you prefer her as a thief or cheater.

*** Luke doesn’t toss in a nice juicy word or two to reveal how the Pharisee felt. What do you think? Was the Pharisee . . . amused, disappointed, offended, irked, flabbergasted, angry or aroused?

*   *   *

The Pharisee in Luke 7’s verses troubles me.

I’m troubled by the Pharisee’s actions, and by what may come next for the person who invited Jesus to his table, because I’m a “religious authority,” a modern day version of a Pharisee. Long, long ago, when a United Methodist bishop gingerly rested his palm on my head, and declared me ordained, I began to read the Bible with different eyes.

I’d be foolish if I didn’t.

*   *   *

So what came next for the Pharisee, Jesus, the whore and those at the table?

We know about Jesus. He kept trudging toward Jerusalem. Things got worse. Things got better.

We don’t know what happened to the whore, though it’s fun to imagine that she was Mary Magdalene (who Luke specifically mentioned a few verses after the woman who was a sinner bathed Jesus’ feet). But we don’t know. The unnamed and now forgiven woman was last observed on the floor, after Jesus told the story within the story. Maybe she was the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold and all things were better after her encounter with Jesus. Maybe she was indeed Mary from Magdala, and Luke chose to be a clever writer and not directly identify her. Keep those readers guessing! Maybe the woman returned to plying her trade, the so-called oldest profession, before the next day ended. What if she hid her ill-gained coins in the empty alabaster jar?

As interesting as she might be, I’m not interested in her.

Nor am I interested in the unnamed table companions that crowded around the Pharisee’s trough. They ate. They listened to Jesus’ story. They grumbled. They left without helping do the dishes.

Ah . . . Simon. What would the religious authority do next?

In other words, what would I do next?

I fear I’d do nothing.

In the story, and the story within the story, Jesus revealed how essential it was (and is) to forgive. He also acknowledged the whore’s actions were gracious, while the Pharisee was forgetful or neglectful or ignorant of his duties as a host.

We don’t know if Simon’s reaction was . . . so what? When you have power—say, you’re white, male, middle-class, educated, ordained, pay your bills, mow your lawns, walk your dog, had parents who once easily covered a few lingering debts, heterosexual, married, possess a swell resume and know a few people who know a few people—you don’t have to change. You don’t have to do anything except wonder in amusement or anger if Jesus knew the woman was a whore and then you get up from the table and leave and get on with your predictable, inevitable and meaningless life.

And yet, what if instead the Pharisee’s reaction was . . .

What if my—your—reaction is . . .

*     *     *

In my work at hospice, I fielded a call from a woman whose husband had died the previous month. She sought information about our upcoming grief support groups. I gave her the usual spiel, the when-the-group-starts and the how-much-it-costs and partway through the one-sided conversation, she muttered, “I’m not ready for this.”

She ended the call. Click.

No drum roll.

No trumpet fanfare.

No applause.

Click.

Crap. Pardon me when I use that modest four-letter curse. It’s how I felt. Not anger. Not amusement. Like crap. I hadn’t listened to her. I hadn’t heard her. I hadn’t heard her with my ordained ears or my easy-to-access and easy-to-use human compassion.

She hurt. I gave a spiel.

A few days later, the same woman popped up on the scheduled call list. It was time for me to phone and ask her how she was doing. She was one of a hundred grieving loved ones on my list. There. She. Was.

What had I learned? What would I do next?

How often does God—or if not God, just day-to-day-to-day life, just all those encounters with uninvited people and unexpected moments—give us a second chance?

Often enough. Often enough to do something different the next time. Often enough to learn. Often enough to forgive and be forgiven.

I pressed the numbers on the phone.

She answered.

What will we do after we’ve heard the story that is about us?

 

(Image is from here.)

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