The god of Simon the Pharisee is a god who cannot endure sinners. Simon’s god has been boxed into a strict earthly purity code. Simon’s god apparently approves only of those that Simon approves.
Jesus enters the house of Simon the Pharisee. The absence of welcome is quite present. Hospitality norms dictated that a visitor entering the home from the hot dusty streets would have his head anointed with oil and be offered a bowl of cool water and a towel to wash and dry his bare blistered feet. We know Jesus is travel weary; we have read of his journeys from city to city healing the sick and restoring life in our lessons from Luke’s Gospel over the past several Sundays. As Jesus enters the home of Simon, Simon offers no such comforts; and it is clear that Jesus should not expect to be received or encouraged to linger, as would others of Simon’s social and religious status.
As if the setting was not uncomfortable enough already, in ultimate outrage, Simon observes a woman of the city well known for her sinfulness as she slips into his home and stands behind Jesus, then, apparently drops to her hands and knees at Jesus’ feet – “child’s pose” in Yoga language. Overcome by humility and gratitude, the woman is weeping. She loosens her hair – a disgraceful act for a woman in the presence of strange men; and she breaks open the alabaster jar of healing ointment.
Thus, in profound contrast to Simon’s lack of the bare basics of welcome, this lowly sinful woman pours out her soul as she pours out the soothing oil on Jesus’ feet, bathing his feet with her tears, and drying them with her loosened hair – a gesture of extravagant love. It is a gift of grace, and in this moment, this desperate woman exemplifies and experiences for herself the gift of God’s extravagant love. Is it the love that brought the forgiveness or the forgiveness that brought the love?
As an aside, if you look closely at these verses of scripture, you find no confirmation that this woman was a prostitute. And, quite coincidentally perhaps, it is in the next chapter that Mary Magdalene is named. Very unfairly, the early Church surmised the sin and the sinner to be Mary Magdalene, the prostitute. Searching the web for a depiction of Mary of Magdala, you will find quite alluring, if not pornographic, portraits of a voluptuously exposed woman with exceedingly long and thick curly red hair.
Whether the women are the same or two different, both exemplify God’s gift of extravagant love, both humbly and gratefully and equally received God’s immeasurable gift of forgiveness for their great debt of sinfulness.
Similarly, the great King David is brought low in the presence of God as he humbly acknowledges his sinfulness in the orchestration of the death of his loyal soldier Uriah. In an incredible feat of desperation, David orchestrated this death for the purpose of covering his illicit affair with Bathsheba, named in our Old Testament lesson from 1st Samuel only as “the wife of Uriah.” The prophet Nathan shocks David back into reality with his parable; David recognizes his sin, unforgiveable in the eyes of humans, only quenched by the extravagant grace of God, God’s extravagant and freely given gift of unsurpassed love.
The child born of this affair would die; later Bathsheba would again conceive, and this child would be named Solomon; he would grow into the great King Solomon who would build The Great Temple and be remembered for his humility and wisdom. There is no evil that God does not overcome in his time on his terms with his extravagant love.
This extravagant love cannot be earned. It is clear that David did not earn God’s love through his despicable acts of adultery and murder. Like the woman weeping at the feet of Jesus, was it the love that brought the forgiveness or the forgiveness that brought the love?
God created all that is, all that has been, all that will be; God created all in love. God wants only what is best for us, not because we have earned it. God wants only what is best for us just as others who love us want only what is best for us. We don’t reinvent love each time someone comes into our lives in whom we recognize great love.
God’s extravagant love is his grace-filled gift; we but have to open our arms and hearts to that extravagant love. That love bathes us in forgiveness and challenges us to spread that love and forgiveness. God came to earth in the human person of the Son, Jesus Christ, to show us how to love. If you have loved and been loved, you know that there is no human law or human word that can legislate or initiate love or even describe love adequately. You have to feel it, and all that you feel of love comes from God. If you do not believe in God, you do not believe in love. God is love; love is God.
In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, the Apostle Paul expresses God’s grace – this indescribable immeasurable extravagant love. Paul writes, “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ,” justified by faith alone, Paul would say, “and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” Paul reminds the Galatians they cannot earn their way to heaven through earthly means. Salvation/justification comes by grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.
These words in Galatians were the words that sparked the Reformation, dividing Christians from the 16th century until today into a variety of faith traditions throughout the world over this question of the relationship of faith and works and our misinterpretations of works’ righteousness and God’s “law.”
The god of Simon the Pharisee is a god who cannot endure sinners who do not abide by Simon’s strict interpretation of the law – those who, for Simon, must earn God’s love. Simon’s god has been boxed into a strict earthly purity code that condemns the sinner on earthly terms and grants love and forgiveness only to those who earn it. Simon’s image of God is a god who approves only of those that Simon approves.
Our image of God creates us. Is your god a god who is limited by earthly expectations – a demanding god who cannot endure sinners? Or, is your god a god of extravagant love – God who bathes us with the healing oil of forgiveness of our sins? And, is it this extravagant love that brings about our forgiveness or is it the forgiveness that brings us to our knees in the realization of the extravagant gift of love?