Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two Debtors Luke 7:36-50

This recap is for the passage of Scripture taken up this past Sunday. The recap is in two parts: 1. Remarks at the Lord's table and 2. The Homily Recap. Additionally, there is a mini-excursus on justice in the homily recap portion.

Remarks at the Lord’s Table:

In Luke’s narrative before us this Sunday we found Jesus asking Simon a very pointed question - do you see this woman? Simon was looking at her but Jesus is suggesting that if he could really see her for who she was that life could be very different for Simon, life could take a dramatic turn for the better. Some see in what she is doing a picture of what Jesus will do later for his disciples, as she washes his feet. Clearly, what Jesus saw was a woman who had been forgiven showing her love in the best way she knew how; and in a very humble way. Simon could only see her as someone who he had put into an unchangeable category. To Simon, this woman was a permanent sinner and never to be a part of his community, let alone a welcomed guest in his home. One commentator has noted that Jesus’ ability to see people - not just look at them - is an invitation and challenge to each of us to desire to see every person as full of potential and to treat them that way. To see each person in the world as someone who God loves, forgives, and desires to experience forgiveness, will help us go a long way towards treating others as God would want us to treat them. When we come to the communion table we should know that God is not just looking at us but that he sees us through eyes that behold the vision of who we are becoming in Christ, as those who receive forgiveness. May we receive forgiveness and show love lavishly in the same way as the woman who washes Jesus’ feet.

Homily Recap:

Today we continue in our reflections on the parables of Jesus as we take up a very short parable. In order to challenge Simon’s vision of the woman in his house Jesus tells his dinner host a story about two debtors, one who is forgiven a great debt and the other forgiven a relatively small debt. He tells the story as a way of inviting Simon to be able to see God’s grace at work in the world from God’s point of view. Sadly, Simon, like you and me, has trouble seeing people the way God does.

Simon sees himself as good and the woman as bad. He sees Jesus as less than a prophet because in Simon’s estimation Jesus can’t see who this woman really is. Simon needs to be able to see everything differently if he is going to be able to understand rightly what God is doing in the world through Christ. At least three things are necessary for Simon to be able to see rightly.

First, he needs to understand that God is first and foremost about the business of forgiving people and calling them to experience that forgiveness through confession and repentance. For Simon, there would have likely been a list of things that God was most concerned about but desiring to bring forgiveness to every person in the whole world would not have been anywhere near the top of the list and maybe not on the list at all. Like many Pharisees in Jesus’ day, Simon likely located the Satan that Yahweh opposed in the oppressive Romans. The thought that God’s salvation of the world would begin with the renewal of sinful human hearts within Israel for the sake of Romans and everyone else would not have been in Simon’s program. How about you and me? Do we see God as being driven by a desire to forgive ALL people? Do we see our family, our group of friends, our neighborhoods, our work places as the spaces where God wants to manifest his desire to forgive all people? When we see the radical universality of God’s desire to forgive we come a bit closer to seeing things rightly.

A parenthetical thought or two about justice and the “day” of judgment:

But what about justice? Isn’t God mainly driven by a desire to make thing just? If we let love define our understanding of what justice looks like then perhaps so. But often what we imagine to motivate God in seeking justice looks something like a passion for retribution more than a passion to see people who do just things because they have been forgiven. However, if we think of justice as defined by love, then we can say that, in one sense, God is all about justice. He will not allow evil and injustice to go on forever and nothing evil or unjust will have a place in the shalom of the world to come. It is imperative, though, to remember that God’s logic and method for making this world into the new heavens and the earth is by populating it with people who have been forgiven and who learn how to love as God loves. God wipes out what opposes his shalom fundamentally through the process of reclaiming sinful people by forgiving them, not by wiping them out. In the end, those who use the dignity of their freedom to finally resist God’s forgiveness, make hell for themselves. That potential for human freedom remains to us but an abstract concept since we don’t know exactly how God deals with people in the end But as a concept it only serves to highlight that God’s way with the world is to keep pursuing people with his love, inviting them to be forgiven.

The second thing that needs to happen for Simon is that he needs to see himself as one who needs to be able to love like the woman loves. But to be able to love in that way he needs to see himself as one who needs to be forgiven in the same way the woman saw her need for forgiveness. Simon would not have seen it that way as is obvious from the narrative. But how about us? Do we measure how much we are approved of by God according to how good we think we are being in relationship to those who we think are not doing well at all? Now don’t get me wrong. When you see something that by God’s grace and through his empowering presence you have done that is good and beautiful you should be happy and thankful and celebrate. But we must take care to recognize that the love that gives birth to such goodness and beauty is always born out of our ongoing experience of being forgiven. To put it succinctly, we must learn to see our fundamental identity as that of forgiven people - not as people who are good or as people who achieve great things. If you see your identity as one who is forgiven, you will do great things. But if you see your identity as one who does great things you will be self-deceived and live a small life in the end. I wonder how many relationships would change for the better if each person in the relationship really understood their identity as one who has been forgiven much?

Finally, Simon needed to be able to see that every person is a person who God wishes to forgive; and he needed to see his community as a place of welcome for all no matter how offensive to him a person’s life and choices might have been. How about you and me? Do we see some people as being permanently off limits to our version of God’s community?

Summing things up....
This entire portion of Luke’s narrative hinges on this one question:
“Simon do you see this woman?” He was looking at her but he did not see her. If he sees her love as something he needs; if he sees her forgiveness as something he needs; then he will see Jesus as not merely a prophet but more than a prophet: he is the one who knows Simon’s heart and the one who can do more than a prophet can do. Jesus can forgive Simon’s sins.

How about you and me? Do we see her?

Questions for discussion:

1. Jesus demonstrates who Simon should welcome into his home and community by welcoming the woman and suggesting that she has shown better hospitality in his own home than Simon has. What does this make you think of with regard to your habits of hospitality? What about the hospitality of our church community as a whole? How can you apply this to your life situation?

2. Do you have trouble loving others? If so, have you thought about whether or not you are experiencing God’s forgiveness deeply and regularly through the discipline of honest confession and grateful repentance?

3. Part of what this parable teaches, in my opinion, is that how we see others impacts how we see ourselves and how we see God. Can you think of an occasion when you stubbornly refused to see someone as God sees him or her but then later came to see them more as God sees them? What was like for you?

4. Do you sometimes use your passion for justice as an excuse for not loving others or holding out grace them?