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Summary: A sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6, Series C

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3rd Sunday after Pentecost [Pr.6] June 13, 2010 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Forgive us, gracious Lord, for the ways in which we ignore those whom you love and for whom you died. Forgive us for the ways we tend to see our friends and family first, without looking beyond our circle to those caught in your wide embrace of redeeming grace. Forgive us for the way that we walk past those who are in need because their need might intrude on our placid lives and make difficult demands upon us. For your transforming, healing grace, we can but give you thanks. Amen.

In one of the commentaries that I read on our Gospel lesson for this morning, it stated, “Rarely, in human life, are boundaries drawn more clearly than around the dinner table… The table is a place of intimacy, for the sharing of food together is one of the most intimate of human activities. The meal, eaten by the gathered family at the end of the day, is a sort of sacrament of family life, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual bonding.” End quote.

Now, although I would not disagree with this comment, I do wander if it might not be a bit passe. Over thirty-five years ago, Dr. Delton Glebe, the former dean of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, lamented the breakdown of the daily family meal. He told our class that the family today is so involved in so many activities, that it is lucky to share a family meal together on a weekly basis, let alone daily. He concluded that the loss of this daily ritual puts a strain on family intimacy.

Clearly, the mobility of today’s society contributes to even less frequent family sharing around the table. For example, Josie and I rarely have the opportunity to break bread together with my daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons, who are now living in Tokyo. Even though they remain in our daily prayers, the intervals between table fellowship is far too long.

But for the Jewish people, especially in Biblical times, meals were seen as religious occasions. In fact, the custom of saying a blessing before eating a meal was a Jewish tradition to claim the dinner table as a place of Divine grace and revelation. To gather around the table was a time for sharing and growing together in faith.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning puts us at the dinner table with Jesus. Jesus is the guest of a man of relatively high social and religious status. He is a Pharisee named Simon, and as a Pharisee, Simon spent much of his day studying God’s word and striving to live his life according to his faith.

All goes well, until an unnamed woman from the city, who is described as having been a sinner, upon learning that Jesus was there, barges into the scene completely uninvited. Though her sin is not mentioned, her actions have intimate overtones, as she goes to great length to bathe and anoint Jesus’ feet, using her tears, her hair, and perfume. The depiction of such extravagant touching of Jesus by a sinful woman would have made any first century Pharisee extremely uncomfortable.

However, Simon, this religious purist, does not respond to the woman’s actions. Instead, he views the situation, and concludes that Jesus could not possibly be a prophet, a spokesperson for God. Even though Simon had invited Jesus into his home as an honored guest, he now takes a negative stance toward Jesus, saying to himself, “If Jesus really were a prophet, he would have known that the woman who was touching him so intimately, was a sinner.” In other words, according to the religious custom of that day, her actions would defile Jesus.

At this point, Luke employs a bit of irony to his story. Even though Simon had only expressed his opinions to himself, Jesus responds to Simon, indicating that Jesus does indeed have prophetic powers of insight. Jesus knows what Simon is thinking, and so he says out loud, so that the whole company at the table can hear, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

Then Jesus asks Simon one of those questions that forces him to come up with the right answer. “There was a creditor who had two debtors. One owed him 50 days’ wages, the other owed him 500 days’ wages. The creditor was a generous person, and when he found out that the debtors couldn’t repay him, he forgave both of them their debt. Which of the debtors will love him more?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one whose greater debt was canceled.”

“You’re right!” said Jesus. And then Jesus drove home his point. “Simon, even though you invited me to share in the intimacy of your table, you didn’t offer me even the basic obligations of hospitality. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, or offer water for me to clean my feet, or oil to anoint my head. But Simon, do you see this woman, how she welcomes and honors me.”

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