DO YOU SEE THIS WOMAN?
LUKE 7: 36-8:3 JUNE 12, 2016
How attractive are you? That might depend on who is looking at you and what kind of vision they have. A middle-aged woman was looking into a full length mirror and said to her husband, “Look at me. Just look at me. My hair is turning gray, my skin has brown spots. I’m sagging and wrinkled. Please say something positive about me. And the husband said, “Well, there is nothing wrong with your eyesight.”
I think there is something wrong with the eyesight of many people that has nothing to do with optometry. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. And real beauty is in the SPIRITUAL eye of the beholder. Have you ever seen a really attractive woman with an ugly man? I have a picture here of one such couple. You have to ask “what did she ever see in him?” Oh wait; this is a picture of Prudy and me. Never mind.
There was a movie a few years ago called “Shallow Hal.” Jack Black plays a very shallow man who only sees the physical attributes of a woman in determining her worth. Then he falls under a spell where he sees women for their inner-beauty. He falls in love with a woman who is very overweight. But when Hall looks at her, he sees Gwyneth Paltrow. We learn that there is more than one kind of vision.
This story in Luke is about the ability to see. The commentators called it a story of two sinners. Simon the Pharisee would not have approved of that title. He had vision problems. He saw himself as extremely righteous. Never mind the fact that he had invited Jesus for dinner and then failed to offer him the required hospitality. He didn’t see that. And he saw this woman who came uninvited into the open house and knelt at the feet of Jesus. But he didn’t really see her? He saw a SINNER. Luke doesn’t tell us the nature of her sin. But it was very public and made her ritually unclean to the judgmental Pharisees. Maybe she was a Whatever her sin, Simon doesn’t really see the woman. In fact that is what Jesus says to Simon. “Do you SEE this woman?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is clearly NO. And it has nothing to do with his eyes.
The problem with Simon is that he saw people in terms of categories. People were either sinners or righteous; right or wrong. He truly could not see this woman who is so extravagantly honoring Jesus with the kind of hospitality that Simon had failed to offer.
Simon is not alone in his poor spiritual vision. Many people see others in terms of the category to which they are assigned. Some see people as just black or Hispanic or Muslim or gay and draw conclusions about the person based on that category. And when that happens, you don’t really see the person Every human being is an individual first rather than a member of an identity group. The moment we forget that is the moment we enter a phase of moral descent. Dr. King dreamed of a time when a man would be judged not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.
Jesus saw people as they really were. He knew that every person is mixture of saint and sinner. He didn’t deal with people in terms of categories. Look at the people he chose to be his disciples. They were fisher men and tax collectors and radical zealots and Luke lets us know that a number of his important followers were women; unheard of at that time.
Jesus even refuses to categorize Simon. To Jesus, he was more than just a Pharisee. Of course he would eat with him. Though Simon probably saw Jesus as belonging in the category of trouble makers and outsiders, Jesus would not pass up an opportunity to break bread with him and try to teach him about spiritual vision.
Jesus tells Simon a Two men owe the creditor money. One owes a small about. The other owes a huge amount. The creditor forgives the debts of both. Jesus traps Simon by asking which one would be more grateful. Simon condemns his lack of spiritual eyes by giving the right answer. The one who is forgiven much loves much. It’s a fantastic story. Creditors almost NEVER forgave any amount of debt; especially if it was a huge amount of money. That’s something that has not changed. What if the bank came and said, “Hey, you know that big mortgage on your house? Don’t worry about it. The debt is cancelled.” Yeah right!
So a big part of this parable is the forgiveness of the debt. In this case it is the debt of sin. And it is an amazing gift that the debt is wiped out. The woman if forgiven and she can’t do enough to express her love and gratitude to Jesus. Simon doesn’t even realize that he too owes a debt. And so he shows no love. Grace is the beginning of Godly love. We are forgiven a debt we could never pay. And as a result we are called to love God and all of God’s people regardless of category. And to love extravagantly!
Brennan Manning was a Catholic priest who fell into alcoholism, was defrocked and became homeless and constantly drunk. He tells the story of waking up on a Sunday morning in the gutter outside a church. Many people came by. But it felt to him like nobody saw him. One man called the police and asked that Manning be removed because he was disturbing the parishioners. Far too many church people suffer from spiritual They saw him as a member of a category; DRUNKS. Did anyone see a desperate man in need of help? Or did they just see a drunk. Simon saw only a woman with a bad reputation. But Jesus asked him, “Do you SEE this woman?”
RADICAL INCLUSIVITY = CHURCH
Where do you see yourself in this story? I can’t see myself as the woman with a shady past. I also can’t quite see myself as Simon. I think maybe I am one of the other guests at the table. I’m trying to learn the lesson that Jesus is teaching. I’m trying to understand the magnitude of grace. I’m trying to improve my spiritual vision so that I can see, really see each person as one who is forgiven by God. I want to consistently see beyond categories.
I want to understand how no act of love is too great in the face of the debt that Jesus has paid for me. I read that in Calcutta there is a tradition of hospitality that causes the host to bow before his guest and touch his forehead to the feet of the one who is welcomed. The response of love that is asked of us is unique to each individual. And if you are looking with spiritual eyes you will find those opportunities. It is always a response to grace. I relate to a line from the hymn by Robert Robinson, “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing.” He begins the last verse by saying, “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”
But there is another part of this story. Jesus tells this woman that her sins are forgiven and bids her go in peace. Go where in peace? The only people she had known and the only money she ever had were a part of her old life. What she needed, what we all need is a place to go where there is radical Inclusivity for ALL sinners.
That is what the church is called to be. It’s not a club for the righteous. It is a haven for sinners of all descriptions who have found grace from God and from the other members. One person said the church is like a starving person telling other starving people where they can find food. In order to do that we have to open our SPIRITUAL eyes and see each person as a child of God, whether that person is a Prostitute or a Pope or someone in between. Luke started his gospel with an announcement by angels to shepherds explaining the purpose of the birth in Bethlehem. I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be ALL people. ALL people? ALL?