“Love becomes weak if it is not strengthened by truth. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love.” –Nicky Gumbel, Anglican Priest and developer of the Alpha Course.
PRAYER: (From the Lectionary)
“Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, AMEN”
SCRIPTURES: (From the Lectionary)
1 Kings 21:1-21a (Elijah vs Ahab, in re Naboth’s vineyard)
Psalm 5:1-8 (Lead me, O Lord…)
Galatians 2:15-21 (For I am crucified with Christ…)
Luke 7:36-50 (Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and the sinful woman)
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them… (Luke 7:36-38)
PRAYER FOCUS: Welcoming Sinners
Would you seek treatment at a hospital that mocked your sickness? What if the doctors and nurses refused to see you because you were ill?
This week’s Scriptures are packed with power and insight. But we draw our focus upon the extraordinary prayer taken from the Lectionary:
1. We pray that God will keep His household the Church in His steadfast faith and love.
2. We pray that we may proclaim truth with boldness—through God’s grace.
3. We pray that we may minister justice with compassion—through God’s grace.
4. We pray in the name of—and for the sake of—our Savior Jesus Christ.
This prayer is extraordinary because it speaks precisely to one of the greatest problems in the Church today. How, exactly, do we speak “truth with boldness” and yet “minister justice with compassion”?
What did Jesus do? In our Gospel passage, Luke 7:36-50, we see Jesus responding to a dinner invitation to the home of a Pharisee named Simon (no relation to Simon Peter). Luke does not provide much in the way of a description of Simon’s house, or his household, but we do see Jesus recline at the dinner table in the place of an honored guest, per the traditions of that day. The “sinful woman” approaches Jesus not directly, but from behind, as was the custom of a maidservant. Once in His Presence, she begins to weep at her fallen state. She washes his feet with her tears and she dries them with her own hair. She anoints his feet with kisses and a perfume that likely cost her several months’ wages.
Simon the Pharisee clearly knows this woman, and knows of her reputation. He has the courtesy not to say anything out loud. But he wonders how Jesus could be a prophet if he lets this “notorious sinner” (Amplified Bible) touch him.
Jesus addresses each of them, in turn, speaking truth with boldness and ministering justice with compassion. First He speaks to Simon, “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (vv 41-42).
Simon answers correctly, but then Jesus has a further lesson for him. That lesson begins by beholding the sinful woman, to acknowledge her common, if fallen, humanity.
“Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she from the moment I came in has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with [cheap, ordinary] oil, but she has anointed My feet with [costly, rare] perfume. Therefore I tell you, her sins, many [as they are], are forgiven her—because she has loved much. But he who is forgiven little loves little” (vv. 44-47, Amplified Bible).
You see, Jesus didn’t need to prove to the woman she was a sinner. She already knew that. What she needed more than anything was a word of encouragement, an acknowledgement that she wasn’t worthless. Jesus speaks truth with boldness when he acknowledges both her many sins and the repentance she shows in her tears and perfume. He ministers justice in love, “Your sins are forgiven—your faith has saved you, go in peace” (vv. 48, 50).
But Jesus did need to instruct proud Simon in what a penitent sinner, a remorseful sinner looked like. Of course she would respond with greater love and gratitude. Jesus spoke to Simon’s hard heart with a boldness befitting the situation. And in doing so, He ministered justice to Simon with an equally measured compassion.
Thus is the modern Church transfixed: We must understand that sinners will come to our churches broken, perhaps even “notorious”. We cannot meet them at the door and beat them further with a litany of the sins they already know by heart. Hey, you better get a grip on your drinking, and that porn on your computer—what a sicko! Now stop all that sinning, pal. OK, see you next week—don’t forget to wear a nice tie!
Like Jesus, let us welcome them—even as we ourselves once came in penitence to those same Feet. We cannot leave them mired in their sin, nor can we speak a compromised truth, which is no truth at all. But we must acknowledge and accept their gesture in coming forward, and in love begin the conversation that Jesus wants us to have with them.
You’ve heard this here before–there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are forgiven and those who are not. Our mission is to move as many as possible from the second group to the first.
It’s Monday Morning. Let us strengthen the truth with our love, yet let us speak that truth through acts of love and grace.