Saturday, June 15, 2013

Women, the Poor and the Outcast

A Narrative based on Luke 7:36-8.3  for the Third Sunday After Trinity

Hello.  How do you do?  My name is Simon.  I'm one of the Rabbis of the Jewish Faith, from the time of Jesus.  In my time, I'm known as a Pharisee.  I suppose your equivalent would be something that I think you call a Bishop.  In other words, I've been studying all my life to be a teacher and leader of the Faith.  I'm a very important man!

I've actually been transported here, through time, for just this moment.  I've come to tell you a story...about the time that Jesus came to eat at my house.

I had been hearing stories about this Jesus fellow.  He was another teacher, another Rabbi, like me.  But my fellow Pharisees and I were hearing strange things about him.  We heard that he was living on the streets, or in friends' houses, telling people that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, healing people, and forgiving their sins!.  It was getting rather annoying, frankly.  All our regular worshippers at Synagogue were talking about him...this new prophet.

I decided that I had better meet the man for myself.

So, I rather reluctantly invited him for dinner.  Mind you, I wasn't going to have my friends think that I was happy about I didn't offer him the normal courtesies.  So when Jesus turned up for dinner, I just gestured to a place at the table, and he sat down.  I was just about to start questioning him about his strange teachings, when all of a sudden there was a commotion in the crowd.  (Our meals are often taken with a crowd of the common people hanging around...trying to listen to our intelligent conversation!).  Out of the commotion suddenly, a woman appeared.  I saw immediately, with horror, who it was.  "No!" I thought to myself.  "Anyone but her!".  But this woman - who, let's say, had a bit of a 'reputation' - carried on as if no-one else was in the room.  She went right over to Jesus, and started to weep all over his feet.  Worse still,  she then unwrapped her hair!  Now I don't know about your culture, but in mine, a woman should never uncover her hair.  Her hair is meant only for her husband to see.  Women who let down their hair in my culture are either mad or prostitutes!  But this woman, this brazen hussy, she unwrapped her hair, and then started to wipe her tears off Jesus's feet with it!  Incredible.

And then, to cap it all, she took out a jar of perfumed ointment, and started to anoint his feet with it!  I couldn't believe my eyes!  And it just proved to me that this Jesus was a fraud.  I said to myself "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him".

Just then, while I was muttering to myself, Jesus looked up...straight into my eyes.  "Simon", he said, "I have something to say".

Between my gritted teeth, I replied "Teacher, speak".

And that was when it happened.  That was when Jesus of Nazareth got through to me.  He started by telling a story about a man who forgave the debts of two other people.  And then, he began to systematically shame me about my total failure of hospitality.  Point by point, he walked me through all the ways I had failed to live up to my responsibilities as a host...the way I didn't have his feet washed, nor did I kiss him, nor did I anoint him.  But this woman, this lost soul, had done all of that...with her own tears and hair.  I was ashamed.  In front of all my friends I felt stupid and embarrassed.  I remembered all those teachings from the Hebrew Bible about how we should greet strangers, and welcome them.  I remembered the story about how the people of Sodom had failed in their solemn duty of hospitality...and how they had been punished for it.

And then, to cap it all, Jesus looked down at the poor woman on the floor, and forgave her for her sins.  He took her gift of love, and gave it back to her a thousand times.

My friends and I were stunned.  We began to look at each other in wonder.  "Who is this, who even forgives sins?".  We realised then, that we were in the presence of someone truly extraordinary.

But more than that, Jesus helped us to think about so many things in different ways.  He had taught us, by his very presence, that we should not judge a book by its cover.  He arrived at my house looking dirty, disheveled, and frankly he could have done with a bath.  But once he opened his mouth, we knew that we were in the presence of Royalty.  I wonder whether you have ever made that mistake?  I wonder if you have ever judged another person to be worth-less because of what they wear, or how they look.  I know I did.  And I'm ashamed.

Another thing that Jesus really challenged us about was the place of women in society, and indeed in our religion.  Not only did Jesus let this odd woman come and wash his feet with her tears and hair, he also let women travel about with him and his disciples.  That was very hard for me to accept, let me tell you.  We believe that a woman's only place is in the home...looking after the children.  But here was this extra-ordinary man, who let women touch him, and even let them travel with him and his disciples!

I came to understand that Jesus' primary mission was to all those who are cast out by the society in which we live.  He wanted to include everyone in the new Kingdom that he was announcing.  Just a quick look at his disciples told us that.  There were fishermen and tax collectors, women, the sick, and even political extremists, like Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot.  Everyone whom polite society would have nothing to do with...Jesus wanted to include them.

He was amazing.  And he blew my mind!

I you ever make the same mistakes as my society?  I'm sure you don't.  After all, you are a Christian country, aren't you?  I'm sure that you now treat women with exactly the same equality as men?  I'm sure, by now, that you must have female Pharisees...or what is it you call them...Bishops?

I'm sure that you don't allow the poorest members of your society to have to live on the bread line.  I'm sure that by now you don't have wealthy money-lenders who lend money at extortionate rates of interest.  Do you?  I'm sure you live by what Jesus taught... "Blessed are the poor - for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven".  I'm sure that if any Government in your day tried to reduce the support it gives to the poorest members of society - while the rich evade taxes and line their pockets -  the members of the church would rise up and protest?  Wouldn't you?  I'm sure you would write to your MP, and protest wherever possible at any such reductions in basic living standards.

Oh, I'm sure that your society must be much fairer, much more just than mine.  I'm sure there must be much more justice and mercy.

And what is more, I'm sure that, as followers of Jesus Christ, you must have learned something about the power of forgiveness.  In my day, we just lock people up when they do something wrong.  I'm sure that you have learned by now that that doesn't work.  I'm sure you now do as Jesus did to that sinful woman: forgive them, and help them to get their life back on track.

What a wonderful world you must live in, if it truly is a Christian world.  I can only dream of a world in which the poor are helped, where foreigners and strangers are welcomed, where sinners are forgiven and restored, and where there is equality between the sexes.

But now, I'm afraid, I have to leave travel back to my own time, to begin the work of building such a wonderful, Godly kingdom.  That's my task.  That's my calling.

Perhaps you still have some work to do in your time, in Jesus' name, too.


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