Summary: What is our motivation for going to church or serving God’s creation?
See or Be Seen 6-17-07
There was once as boy who, like many kids in school, was having a real problem with math— well, more than a problem. No matter what his parents did, one on one tutoring or peer mentoring, their son never received a grade better than a “D” on any assignment in that subject. They were at their wits end when a friend suggested that they try a private, Catholic school. Well, they weren’t Catholic but they were willing to try anything to help their son. After the first day, the boy’s parents were surprised when he walked in after school with a very focused, very determined look on his face and went straight to his room, where he closed the door and immediately started working math problems. For nearly two hours he worked— math books all over his desk and the floor. He came out of his room just long enough to eat and then went straight back, closed the door, and worked tirelessly until bedtime. This went on for weeks until it was time for his first report card. The boy walked in with the envelope in his hand, laid it on the dinner table, unopened, and went straight to his room. His mother cautiously opened it, and there she saw a bright red “A” under the subject of “Math”. She and her husband rushed into their son’s room, they couldn’t believe the incredible turn around and they asked their son, “Was it the nuns that did it?” The boy only shook his head, “No.” “Was it the one-on-one tutoring? The peer-mentoring?” “No.” “The textbooks? The teachers? The curriculum?” “Nope, it wasn’t any of that. On that first day, when I walked in the front door and saw that guy they nailed to the ‘plus sign’ I just knew they meant business!” (America Online: McKinley, B, Nov. 6, 1997 at net.bible.org)
What motivates you to do something, or to do something well? I guess that all depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it? At work, you may be motivated to work hard or produce results by the promise of a paycheck or the threat of termination. At home, you may be motivated to help out with the housework by a desire to make your spouse happy or by fear that your visiting in-laws will think their daughter is living with a pig. In team sports, a person may be motivated to work hard and perform well in the hope of making the starting line-up or the fear of being dropped as a starter. Whatever the situation may be, we all have things that motivate us. And motivation is the first word that came into my mind when I read today’s scripture. When reading this passage, I think most of us are focused on what the woman does— her tears, drying Jesus’ feet with her hair, her attitude of humility and thankfulness for what Jesus had done for her. But when I read it, I just couldn’t help but wonder what motivated a Pharisee, most of whom hated Jesus, to invite him to have supper at his house. I couldn’t help but wonder if this invitation was a sincere attempt to get to know Jesus or if there was some ulterior motive.
Now, we all probably know who the Pharisees were— they were the leaders of the Temple, the keepers of the Law of Moses. They were the ones who interpreted scripture for the Jewish people— who told them what they should and should not do, who were the judges of what was proper, not only within the walls of the Temple, but within social settings as well. The Pharisees had a lot of power over the people, and they used it. But the Pharisees were also, what Mitchell Bard would call, the “blue-collar Jews.” (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes- www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org) They weren’t the aristocrats or the elite like the Sadducees. They came from the common people and they were also the consummate politicians of the day. They were always trying to broker back room deals and align themselves with the right people in order to gain more power for themselves. I have no doubt the individual leaders of the Temple would align themselves even with a person the other Pharisees thought was reprehensible if they thought it would be advantageous to them. And I think this is precisely why Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him.
You see, even though many of the Pharisees saw Jesus as a threat to their power, a threat to their position in society, I think Simon saw Jesus’ presence in his town as an opportunity for advancement— an opportunity to demonstrate his connection to the common folk. I don’t think Simon wanted to see Jesus for some sage advice, to hear what Jesus had to say about the kingdom of God so that he might learn how to become closer to God. I think Simon wanted to be seen with Jesus because he was so popular among the people and he hoped some of that popularity would rub off on him. After all, at this point of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was something akin to a rock star. He is making the blind see, healing a paralytic, raising the dead, talking to the people about God and the people are responding very positively to the message. In this same chapter of Luke, when Jesus raised the widow’s son, the people “were all filled with awe and praised God… and… This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.” Luke 5 says that news about Jesus “spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.” All these people following Jesus and, if Simon could be seen with him, man, what a great public relations move.