Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
June 12, 2016
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. Luke 7:47
I have to be honest with you; I am NOT a math scholar. I took the basic math course required for an undergraduate music degree, but I’ve never really understood the intricacies of higher math and didn’t find much joy in formulas and theorems. Fortunately, God’s mathematics is crazy enough to keep me both engaged and grateful. You see, God is all about multiplication and addition, but you won’t see a whole lot of division going on.
The Creator of the Universe is always looking for ways to add up our meager offerings and shower us with abundance. All you have to do is look around and pay attention. You really can’t miss God’s crazy math once you know what you’re looking for, and this week’s gospel lesson is a prime example.
The story is one of the most touching and poignant ones from Jesus’ ministry. A woman, who happens to be a sinner, comes into a Pharisee’s house where Jesus is eating dinner and begins to anoint Jesus’ feet with ointment from an alabaster jar. She bathes his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. It is an intimate yet very public encounter that crosses all sorts of proper boundaries and divisions, and it leaves Simon the Pharisee with the taste of disgust in his mouth. This “righteous” man is already doing some long division about who belongs and who doesn’t, about who is good and who is bad, and about who is “in” and who is “out.” Jesus calls him on it by using a story about forgiving debt.
Simon “gets” Jesus’ point and makes the correct judgment about who will love the creditor in the story more—the one whose large debt is wiped clean. It’s a no-brainer for human mathematics, at least in the abstract. But seeing the same math applied to this outsider, this sinful woman, is shocking. It simply doesn’t compute for the religious leader.
Things haven’t really changed much, have they? The rules of division in our culture pretty much mirror those of the first century (although I supposed we like to think we’re move civilized). Those occupying places of power and privilege are all too often ready to divide and separate themselves and their world into neat categories of “us” and “them.” The insiders are quick to point to the outsiders and justify why they are not deserving of inclusion, be it issues of class, race, sexuality, gender, theology, or any number of other categories. Yep, we humans have division down to an art form. And, unfortunately, Christians are not exempt from such long division.
The good news is that God doesn’t do division. It’s just not in the Creator’s wheelhouse. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is all about addition and erasing the lines of division between “us” and “them.” You see, Jesus shows us that you cannot truly divide one child of God from another. We are all created in God’s image; we are all cut from the same fabric of divine love, hope, and grace. No matter that we fail to see this truth; God sees us. In seeing us, God sees what we can be if we quit clinging to our preference for division and try a little multiplication and addition instead. Imagine how different our world might be if we make these connections, if we see one another and God with the great love of that dear fallen and redeemed woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her own hair and who dares to obliterate the dividing lines. We can do this, too. We can, by the grace of God and the discomforting of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow preacher and teacher, don’t shy away from preaching this good news, and don’t shy away from the very real and extremely painful examples of exclusion and division that have flooded our social media pages and newscasts. We so need to hear this good news of great love this week. Blessings on your bold and faithful words.
Consider giving each person a business card with “US” printed on one side and “THEM” printed on the other side. As you talk about the gospel and/or epistle lesson, use the cards to help people understand that when we work with the us/them mentality we cannot see both sides of the card at the same time. The card/logic itself is a barrier to understanding and relationship. In not seeing “them” we also cannot fully see the “us” in ourselves. Jesus was about ripping the barriers that separate people and seeking to bring wholeness to our relationships and to this world. Invite people, if and when they are ready, to rip the card in half and put it in a specific bowl that can be lifted in prayer petition during the intercessory prayers. This prayer should acknowledge our sin and ask for forgiveness and for the Holy Spirit to help us see beyond the barriers and strengthen the fabric of relationship. For those who cannot yet rip their card, invite them to keep it, reflect on it, and pray with it.
Your older youth and young adults will likely be aware of and have concerns/opinions about the Stanford rape case that has flooded the media. Please do not shy away from talking about this topic. Explore with youth how the culture can change and what Jesus has to say about human dignity and worth, particularly that of women. This week’s gospel is an excellent example to tie in to the conversation. Consider whether your community might be a place for parenting classes (particularly to help parents navigate the cultural and gender expectations and assumptions under which our society operates) and/or safety classes for older teens and college students. If our faith communities do not feel a responsibility to steward the precious gift of our youth and to help parents in their role, who will?
The Revised Common Lectionary Gospel and Old Testament lessons provide a good opportunity to talk with children about judging and assuming. Even young children are able to “categorize” people and situations to make sense of life. Consider using the example of pointing a finger at someone on accusation and judgment. How many fingers are pointing back at us? Three, of course. Jesus tells us we are not to judge but to love. Show children instead of pointing in judgement to find a friend and make a heart of love instead (see photo). When we get to know one another and develop friendships and relationships our need to judge and accuse falls away. End with a simple prayer that each child will learn to use their hearts and hands to love rather than judge.
(Photos: Chad Kainz, Wonderlane, and Kris Carillo, Creative Commons and © Sergiy Serdyuk – Fotolia.com)