Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 7:36-50
Sermon: "Self-Righteousness or Love"
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."
Self-Righteousness or Love
Second Sunday after Pentecost - June 24, 2004
What does the word hypocrisy mean to us? Most of the time we define the word through the actions of others. We claim that a person does not act in the manner in which they say they believe. For example, someone says they believe in helping the poor, but do not give of their time or monies to assist anyone. Someone claims to be very religious and yet, their actions do not agree with our concept of religion or with the tenets of their own faith as we know them. When we see people acting opposite of what they claim we automatically label them a hypocrite. We are certain their actions deserve the label. We know exactly what they are and we have no doubt in our minds. The reason we have no doubt is because hypocrisy is a sin we all share. We share this sin because we believe we are better than at least one other person we know. In fact, the root of the sin goes deeper. Deep down we try to fool our own selves and believe that we are not sinful. It is this false belief of self-righteousness that hurts us most of all.
The reason this self-righteousness hurts us so deeply is because it is directly related to the giving and receiving of love. A person who is self-righteous has no need of receiving or giving love. In fact, the more self-righteous one is the less love they can give or receive. The reason this relationship exists is because the more self-righteous we become the less love we think we need. The less love we believe we need the less love we can offer to anyone around us. The Gospel reading this morning is an excellent example.
The Pharisee, Simon, invited Jesus to dinner. We would hope that Jesus was invited by Simon because he liked what Jesus had to say or he was intrigued by Jesus. Actually, his invitation was for all the wrong reasons. Simon wanted to know if Jesus was a real prophet. If Jesus was a real prophet then Simon could say to others, "Jesus ate at my house." It is the mentality of George Washington slept here.
How do we know that Simon's reasons for inviting Jesus were not honorable? The answer is simple. When Jesus arrived Simon did not greet his guest with the appropriate hospitality. He did not have Jesus' feet washed. He did not greet him with a kiss of peace. He did not anoint his head with oil. All of these gestures mean that the guest is welcomed and honored in the home. If a person does not receive these amenities the host is claiming the guest is beneath them. They are subservient to them, a worker for them or a slave. In the Middle East to invite someone to your home and not treat them appropriately was considered awful. Simon did not believe in Jesus or his message. His reason for inviting Jesus had ulterior motives.
As is usual in life his behavior and his true nature is revealed. Through the actions of a sinful woman, Simon's sin is revealed. She does not accuse Simon of anything. She does not chastise him for his inexcusable behavior. Her eyes are on Jesus. She knows, somehow she knows Jesus is more than a prophet. She comes to Jesus on her knees washing his feet with her own tears. She dries them with her hair. She does not feel worthy enough to kiss him on the cheek. She kisses his feet and then anoints them with ointment. This sinful woman has come and given all she has to the one person who can save her.
Simon still does not get what has happened. First, he treats Jesus shamefully. Now, he thinks himself better than the woman. He knows exactly who she is. He knows her reputation around town. Furthermore, Jesus must not be much of a prophet. A true prophet would know what kind of woman this is and would not allow her to touch him. Simon's self-righteousness knows no bounds. He is so self-righteous everyone is beneath him. He has no respect for others. He has no capacity to love.
We are so much like Simon. We all have self-righteousness within us. It isn't a matter of degree. If we have any self-righteousness within us it is too much. Because self-righteousness, the ability to believe that we are better than others, blocks our ability to give and receive love. When we are self-righteous we don't feel the need for love. If we feel we are not sinful then we literally feel no need for God's redemptive love. Why would we need redeeming if we have no sin? There, right there, is the trap. We all have sin. No one is better than anyone else. We set scales for sinfulness but God does not. Sin is sin in the eyes of God. A lie spoken with our lips about a fellow person is just as sinful as taking their life with a gun. God does not have a punishment system for levels of sin. The sooner we understand this concept the better of we will be.
The reason we will be better off is because we will begin to catch ourselves when we have our self-righteous moments. We are sinful human beings. We can't help but have those moments. What matters is how we respond to them. Will we act like Simon and attempt to stay in our self- righteous fog? Or will we fall on our knees and ask for forgiveness and admit we need the love of God? Will we admit we need the full and wonderful and over-flowing redemptive love of God?
One final note concerning this story today. Jesus does not let Simon off the hook. He tells Simon about his sinful behavior. He does not condemn him either. He tells him what he has done. The door is open for Simon. He can come and ask for forgiveness. He chooses not to. The woman, on the other hand, through her humility is forgiven. She came to Jesus acknowledging through her behavior her own sinfulness and Jesus forgave her. From these final verses we learn something about God. God does not want to condemn. God wants to forgive. God is always ready to forgive our sins. When we admit our self-righteous behavior we can be forgiven. In place of the sin we can receive the wonderful love of God. What we have received we can share.