Text: Luke 7:36-50
48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church having a Chicken barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.
"Excuse me," Governor Herter said, "do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?" "Sorry," the woman told him. "I'm supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person." "But I'm starved," the governor said.
"Sorry," the woman said again. "Only one to a customer."
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around. "Do you know who I am?" he said. "I am the governor of this state." Well. She looked at him, "Do you know who I am?" the woman said. "I'm the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister."
Bits & Pieces, May 28, 1992, pp. 5-6
You are made well and forgiven through faith in Christ!
In our Gospel for today Jesus is invited to dine with a Pharisee. Now, the Pharisees were a bit self-absorbed; if you remember the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
Now, as Jesus is dinning a woman of questionable character- a woman of the city, a sinner, who is only at this place because she knew Jesus was there, begins weeping and wets his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair.
At some point in her life she made some wrong choices (any of you ever do that before?) The burden of her sin, she carried by herself, until the weight of the Law of God caused a repentant heart in her. Hearing of Christ’s presence in the house she came to honor Him in blessed thanksgiving, washing, kissing and anointing His feet.
The root of this practice appears to be found in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, especially where sandals were the chief footwear.
A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet, provide a servant to wash the feet of the guests or even serve the guests by washing their feet. A typical Eastern host might bow, greet, and kiss his guest, then offer water to allow the guest to wash his feet or have servants do it. Though the wearing of sandals might necessitate washing the feet, the water was also offered as a courtesy even when shoes were worn. Jesus even washes His disciple’s feet as a sign of humility in how they should treat one another.
As the Pharisee sees this he thinks to himself, “If Jesus really is a prophet, he would know that this woman is a low-life sinner of the worst kind and certainly not wish to be associated with her.” Many times we too lump people together with those whom they associate with.
Father Mike was a young Priest when I was playing in the bars of Detroit in my early 20s. In 1978 he was newly ordained and installed at St. Francis Cabrini parish in Allen Park. One night as we were beginning to play our first set, in walks my friend Jeff and Father Mike. In talking with Father Mike between sets he related a bit of uneasiness at being in this place. After all, the Priest was usually seen at church among parishioners. So here is Father Mike, among sinners, alcohol, smoke, drugs, fights and yes even Rock-n-Roll.
His thought, “Yes, I am a Priest but maybe here is where I should be bringing the love of Christ to those in need.”
This unfortunately seems to place the weight of some sins that are more public and seem greater in the light of our own vision to the hidden sin we all have and fight against daily. At times you and I, like the Pharisee, see the sins of others … while neglecting the plank in your own eye; thinking it a speck of dust you can just wash out yourself. This self-justifying, self-redeeming sin is a greater corruption than the public sin which is recognized and repented of allowing the cleansing ointment of the God/man to wash you clean in the tears of baptismal forgiveness.
Jesus places the plank squarely back in the Pharisees eye with his story of two debtors. One who was forgiven a debt that was ten times the others and asks this question of the Pharisee:
“ … Now which of them will love him more?”
If you like the Pharisee answer, “the one who has been forgiven the bigger debt!” you too would have answered correctly! The gift of forgiveness is truly a blessing when you recognize especially the magnitude of your guilt. Even the smallest of sin brings separation for eternity from our loving God. At no time could this woman in our lesson see a repair she could make. What she saw was Jesus; Only Jesus. She could only, through repentance, see the comfort offered in Him and the justifying gift and forgiveness He offered.
The Pharisee struggled because he didn’t recognize Jesus for who He is and also didn’t recognize his own sin of self-righteousness. Not needing Christ’s forgiveness in his own view the Pharisee was to be forgiven little and he loved little. But not so you who place your trust in Christ because:
You are made well and forgiven through faith in Christ!
The epistle reading for today from Galatians brings to focus the gift of God’s justifying grace in Christ Jesus.
13 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”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The woman at Christ’s feet would not be kept from the free grace offered by the Spirit through faith.
48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The hymn Not What These Hands Have Done reminds us:
1. Not what these hands have done can save this guilty soul; Not what this toiling flesh has born can make my spirit whole.
2. Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God; Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
Again the hymn frees you and me from the work of the Law and points us to the joy we have in Christ Jesus and His work.
3. Thy work alone O Christ, Can ease this weight of sin; Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
4. Thy love to me O God, not mine, O Lord to thee; can rid me of this dark unrest and set my spirit free.
50 And then he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The hymn concludes with the Gospel’s Good News:
5. Thy grace alone O God, to me can pardon speak; Thy power alone, O Son of God, can this sore bondage break.
6. I bless the Christ of God, I rest on love divine; and with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
Christ’s forgiveness is given freely to all who repent of their sins by faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, trusting in Christ’s finished work. You are Christ’s not of your doing but of his choosing and he calls through the gospel of forgiveness by the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament. In baptism you have been call, washed and made God’s beloved child!
Shortly our Chicken BBQ will feed our physical needs and we thank all who made this possible … but today we thank Jesus for the faithfully standing in our place and giving us the gift of faith by the Spirit’s work that in Jesus we have hope and peace, comfort and forgiveness and that our sins are forgiven on account of his work and we rest in the savior’s arms.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.