I’m trying this preaching without notes thing again tomorrow. We switch from two services to one service as the summer schedule begins. I want to bring some of the conversational elements that the first service knows well at my church, but I’m used to leading that conversation after writing a manuscript that I preach in the second service. Without a manuscript, I’m feeling like I need to write something so that my sermon doesn’t come out a jumbled mess of abstract thought as I try to make sense of this woman interrupting a dinner party in Luke 7:36-8:3.
Here it goes.
Your faith has saved you. They called her a sinner, but Jesus says she’s OK. Your faith has saved you. Here’s the thing about that word: sinner. When someone calls you a sinner, it’s because you don’t fit into their category of belief. You don’t believe enough for them. Even in progressive churches, when we try to talk about sin, we tend to think about those people that don’t come to church — the non-believers, the nones, whatever you might like to call them. They are the people that don’t believe like we do.
That’s all that’s happening here. She is a sinner because the Pharisee and his friends don’t think she believes enough. Or at least not like they do. And yet, even after she has made such a complete and total spectacle of herself, Jesus tells her that the faith she already had or the faith she has just discovered – that faith has saved her. It’s a how do you know moment. How do you know you are saved?
What I like most about this story is that she is a mess. I mean, really, she is a complete and total mess in a horrifying, Oh my God make it stop but I can’t stop looking kind of way. I mean, this scene is kinda raunchy. (Let’s see if I actually use that word in worship.) She is touching his feet. (Read: genitals.) She is drying his … genitals… with her hair. (Read: sexual organ that allowed her to get pregnant. How they understood that semen could climb up hair requires some serious OWL training in my opinion, but so be it.) She’s putting it all out there. I mean, all of it. And, like the Pharisee, we are not part of the story. He may have invited Jesus over to dinner. He may have thought he was part of the in-crowd but now he’s just a spectator, just like us. Except that it seems that he’s not watching. Jesus has to ask him, “Do you see this woman?”
And that’s the kicker. Because the Pharisee thinks he sees her. He knows exactly who she is. She is a sinner and he’s all bent out of shape that Jesus can’t see that. Clearly, he’s not a prophet. Oh, but he is. Because there are so many things that we can’t see. There are so many things that aren’t explained. So many things that can’t begin to explain even if we tried. And so, we watch. We watch this woman make a scene as she bends at Jesus’ feet and bathes him in her tears. And we don’t know why. We don’t know where she came from or why she’s crying or even her name. We just get to watch as she kisses his feet and weeps.
Kissing happens a lot in the Bible. Each time it happens it means something different — sometimes happy and sometimes sad. Same thing goes for tears. Happens a lot. And it never means the same thing. And here, we don’t know. It’s never explained. We can only watch. We’re not part of the scene — but maybe we are. Luke’s gospel has deep concern for sinners — that all can be saved. Maybe this passage invites us to see ourselves as a mess. To put ourselves in a really awkward position. To perhaps even risk every definition of what is accepted and normal. Because that’s what love does.
That’s what strikes me about this woman. She puts herself out there. Maybe she is scared. Maybe. But, to put yourself in this position, nearly naked (figuratively, not literally) at a man’s feet, you’ve really got to trust that everything is going to be OK. That kind of faith that doesn’t know for sure what will happen, but that faith that trusts that even if it turns into a complete and total train wreck, that somehow you’ll still be held. That’s the faith that I think Jesus affirms in the end when he says, Your faith has saved you. Because somehow she already knew that God’s love was big enough for her. She doesn’t need to believe like they do. She doesn’t have to behave in the same way. It will still be true. Your faith will save you.