Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2001
The Gospel: Luke 7:36-50
Sermon: "Southern Hospitality"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him - that she is a sinner." Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 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 little." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
Second Sunday after Pentecost - June 17, 2001
We all know we live in the part of our country called the South. We are known far and wide for our hospitality. In fact, our mannerisms and gracious behavior have earned the name Southem Hospitalo. We even pride ourselves on our accomplishment of receiving this distinctive name for ourselves. This morning I would like to share some thoughts about hospitality and how they relate to the Gospel.
So, I would like to start by asking some questions. When we have well known and loved guests come to our house what room do we gather in for talking and chatting? With well loved guests where do we tend to gather to eat?
What do we tend to do when people visit, who are not as close? I'm not talking about strangers. I'm talking about relatives or people we see everyday, but whose habits bother us. Maybe they do not live the kind of life we live. Their lifestyle is different. Their habits are not the kind of habits of which we approve. Yet, we know them well. Do we tend to extend the same courtesy and respect to them that we share with our close friends? If we are honest with ourselves I'll bet we would have to say we treat them differently. We shy away from being around them at work or in recreation. We would not invite them into our homes the same way we do our closest friends or relatives. After all they are different from us. We don"t want them to get the idea we may like them. They might keep coming back. They might get the idea we care about them.
The story in Luke describes an event where both good friends, guests, and a well known, but unwanted person come together in a social evening. in a Pharisee's home. Simon, the Pharisee in our story, has invited Jesus and his closest friends to dinner. There are several customs for this type of event. As the guests arrive, their feet are washed. The dust and grime from the road are removed from their feet before dinner. Then they're anointed with perfurned oil. Finally the host with a kiss of peace greets them. Then they would recline at table. They would recline on their left side and eat using their right hand. As they reclined their feet would be away from the table.
All of Simon's guests have arrived including Jesus. Simon does not know Jesus very well. He wants to learn more. He wants to know if Jesus is indeed the Prophet everyone claims he is. If he were, then Simon would have placed himself in a good position in the community. He would have been the first to invite the new prophet to his home. If he is not the prophet people profess he can blow the whistle on Jesus and still be in good standing. So, the evening begins and the food is served. Suddenly, into the evening comes a woman well known in the community. The Pharisees of the community have branded her a sinner. As a result no righteous person is to allow her to touch them. If they do then they become unclean, defiled simply by her touch. Therefore, the community ostracizes her. Everyone, every man, at the table knows who this woman is. Because of her personal behaviors they are appalled at her presence.
When she comes in she kneels at Jesus' feet. She anoints his feet with the oil she brings. She lets down her hair to wipe the oil and dust away. A woman touching a man's feet in those days was only done in private. A woman only let her hair down in private as well. These actions were seen as too intimate or too alluring for public display. In front of this whole crowd she has committed two sinful acts. She also has been kissing Jesus' feet as she has wiped them with her hair. Jesus has not stopped her. He has allowed her to touch him in this very intimate way. As a result, Simon sees Jesus as defiled and unclean. He also can't be the prophet everyone says he is. If Jesus is the prophet people say he is, then why is he allowing her to touch him at all? Simon believes he has determined the truth about Jesus' identity. He is not a prophet at all. What Simon does not realize is that he is right. Jesus is not a prophet. Jesus is more than a prophet, and Simon is about to learn this fact from his own actions.
Jesus asks Simon the riddle about the two men in debt. Jesus wants to know if Simon can guess who will love the creditor more. Will the one whose debt is large love the creditor more or the one whose debt is small? Simon answers correctly by saying the one with the most debt will love the creditor more in response. Simon has unknowingly stepped into trouble.
Simon did not show Jesus the basic courtesy of the day to a guest. He did not have Jesus' feet washed. He, did not have Jesus anointed with oil. He did not greet Jesus with a kiss. He greeted all his other guests this way, but not Jesus. Remember Jesus received a personal invitation from Simon to come to dinner. Jesus was the honored guest. Think about what this might took like today. We are having a party. We have a special invited guest. We take everyone else's jacket at the door, but we don't take the special guest's jacket. We take the time to get everyone a drink for refreshment. The special guest gets no drink. We seat everyone at the table except the special guest. They are in the corner of the next room eating off a metal TV dinner tray. Then one of the people we know well, but don't associate with comes in. This person is the one whose habits drive you up the wall. They may he an Aunt Tilley or Uncle Roy who constantly talk about their medical problems and dominate the discussion. They may be the nosy neighbor who constantly compares their house to ours. This person might be one person in the office at work whose personal hygiene habits drive us crazy. Whoever this person is, being around them is like having someone run their fingernails down a chalkboard.
However, this person, this person who drives us nuts, takes our special guest's jacket and hangs it carefully in the closet. They go and get a cool drink and bring it to them. They get a chair and make room at the table for our special guest. This person, who drives us nuts, whom we do not like, treats our guest with the honor they deserve. We have not extended common courtesy to our guest and we have been caught.
We are the host for this party. Yet, we have been caught in our own sinfulness. We have tried to elevate ourselves above our guest and our neighbor. We have thought ourselves better than the other people in the room. Now we are caught. Like Simon we find out that treating people with respect and dignity is the first step toward forgives and love.
Jesus forgave the woman of her sins, and I have no doubt he would forgive Simon, too. The difference is the woman knew her situation. She knew Jesus could help her. Simon was too busy thinking about his status to recognize he was having dinner with the Son of God. He was too busy thinking about his pride and position to treat everyone with simple respect, dignity and hospitality.
We are about to have dinner with the Son of God. The Eucharist is dinner with Jesus whether we have a feast or a piece of bread and a sip of wine. The question for us is how will we come to the party? Jesus will wash our feet at the door. Will we welcome others as we meet them throughout the day? Jesus will anoint us with oil as honored guests. Will we welcome everyone we meet each day with respect and dignity? Jesus will greet us with a kiss of peace. Will we greet the people, particularly the ones with whom we have difficulty, with true acceptance and affection? Jesus has shown us the example. If we have the ability to be truly hospitable to everyone then we are truly sons and daughters of the living God. Being sons and daughters of the living God may be better than being proud of our Southern Hospitality.