June 16, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And [Jesus] said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
Crashing a party is a hazardous enterprise. Even the movies get that right. A large enough event provides a good possibility of entry with the right clothes, right attitude, and right moves. Most times, the danger isn’t all that great: you get thrown out of a house or hotel, but that’s about it. Perhaps the police are called; it’s not a preferable outcome, but probably a misdemeanor only. Crashing a party of thugs or felons—or a wedding party in a Philadelphia hotel—could end up a bit more problematic. Regardless of the outcome, there’s a bit of risk.
Today’s Gospel Reading talks about a party crasher. First, you need to remember what the event was: “One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and He went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” This is a dinner party at a prominent man’s home. Simon the Pharisee has plenty of status: he is a teacher of the Torah, an upstanding citizen. Most of his friends would be very similar: the upper class of Israelite society. But then the Gospel Writer mentions the party crasher: “And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed His feet and anointed them with the ointment.”
That’s hardly the way to blend in! Everything she does is visible, and it’s a bit outlandish. What the woman does will be her ticket out the door. At some point, one of the Pharisee’s companions will pick her up and lead her out. The thoughts bouncing around Simon’s head show what he thought about it: “Now when the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this Man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” The hearts and minds of the other guests would have been quite similar: a show of disgust and despising.
But why does this woman do these things? She doesn’t crash the party to partake of the Pharisee’s hospitality. She isn’t trying to be seen among the elites, trying to enter their social circle. She isn’t there for an evening of enjoyment on someone else’s dime; no, as a “sinner” she had plenty of those before. This woman is present because of what she believes concerning Jesus’ identity and work. She has engaged in a hazardous enterprise of crashing the Pharisee’s party and publicly abasing herself as an audacious act of worshiping Jesus. Jesus’ parable and explanation spoken to the Pharisee tells why she did it: “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And Jesus’ statement to the woman recognizes her act: “And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’”
This party-crashing woman knows two things well: that she has committed great sin in her adulterous life and that Jesus has come with a message of forgiveness for her great sins and even worse ones. She believes the good news of the kingdom of God that has flowed from Jesus’ mouth. She recognizes its application for her life. Her guilt was no secret. But now she has heard of One who doesn’t stick that recognized guilt right back in her face, like those who were in the Pharisee’s house. Her ears have heard the gracious words that speak about cancelling guilt and forgiving sin. And though it happens in a completely socially inappropriate way, this woman actually fulfills the Scriptures, the words of the psalm: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found….” Jesus can be found at that house, so the woman goes there, offering her physical prayer to Him. She touches Him because she knows who and what sort of Man Jesus is.
So what type of act do you perform? And what motivates what you do? Those questions arise from hearing about this event in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ parable told to Simon the Pharisee is meant for you to hear: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” The main point of the parable is not to compare the two levels of debt. The real point of the parable is to recognize that you have a debt that cannot be repaid, but has been forgiven. Your guilt has been cancelled. It is what Jesus has done for you. And that is to drive the love for the One who cancels it.
But do you recognize that? Do you have knowledge of your guilt? Is your conscience stricken? Do the words of Scripture describe you: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” Have your ears heard the Lord’s statement of displeasure, the indictment and condemnation against your unrighteousness: “You are the man!” Have you understood the futility of your acts: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” Those words are meant for you to hear and know well. They are spoken to show you the reality of your guilt, so that you aren’t like a Pharisee who thinks there is nothing owed. But these words also show you that Jesus has dealt with the debt which you cannot repay. What Jesus brought to the world is meant for you: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
So the exhortation is given to you: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found….” The psalmist’s actions are placed before you to become your own: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Salvation is offered to you: “we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” But you don’t have to crash a party to get it. Instead, Jesus holds a dinner party and invites you to attend. He summons you here and says, “Come and receive the benefits that I have to provide for you. Come and have your curse lifted. Come and be forgiven.”
You come to Jesus’ presence and receive what He gives because you believe in His work done for you. He says to you: “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Receiving what Jesus offers motivates your actions. As you have your many sins forgiven, then you love Jesus much. That love takes the shape of that woman’s acts in the Pharisee’s house and the other women who were mentioned in the Gospel Reading: “And the twelve were with [Jesus], and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” The pouring of ointment on Jesus’ feet and the giving of financial assistance to Jesus and His apostles are physical acts of prayer. They are prayers of thanksgiving and adoration offered to Jesus for all that He has done.
These physical prayers of thanksgiving and adoration are offered because of the true understanding and belief in Jesus. They are offered by those who recognize just what sort of big deal it was to have Jesus act for their benefit, those who know that the guilt-debt of sin cannot be repaid and that there are greater enemies than can be overcome by human effort. This is where Jesus’ words are shown to be true: “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” When the thoughts are present that your sins aren’t all that bad, that the righteous judgment of God is a trivial matter, that there is no such thing as a debt that can’t be repaid, that Jesus really isn’t a redeemer, then those prayers of adoration and thanksgiving either won’t be offered or they won’t be much. But when the bone-crushing guilt is removed, when a new status of blessedness is provided by having sin covered with righteousness, when divine assistance is given and received, when the putting away of the curse is fully realized, then the thanksgiving and adoration comes flowing out. It is shown in what you say about Jesus: “You are a hiding place for me; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with shouts of deliverance.” And it is also shown in what you do for Jesus, the offering of support from your own means.
That is what this incident in Jesus’ life shows. He is the redeemer. He speaks graciously to those who recognize their guilt and turn to Him for aid. He does not chase away the penitent, but welcomes them. He forgives sins. He puts away the curse of eternal death. And those who believe that about Jesus come to where He is found. They hear His verdict: “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” And those who hear this will fall down at His feet and offer their praise and gratitude to Him. May His words about such people be the true description about you: “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.