“The People We Don’t Really See”

Pentecost 4

June 12, 2016


Text:  Luke 7:36-8:3; 1 Kings 21:1-21a; Galatians 2:15-21


    Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of Simon, a Pharisee who was a prominent Jewish religious leader.  Now in that culture formal dinners were eaten while reclining. The table was low, and the guests dined while lying on their left side, propped up on the left elbow (demonstrate this) with the head next to the table and the feet pointed away from it.  

As they ate, a woman entered the room, knelt at Jesus’ feet, and began pouring perfume on his feet and wiping them with her hair.  She was crying as she did so.  The woman was identified as being a “sinner”.  Although her sin is not specified, most commentators think she was a prostitute.  Simon was scandalized and thought to himself, “If this man were really a prophet, he would know she is a sinner, and wouldn’t allow her to do this to him.”  Of course, Jesus had already gained a reputation for keeping company with tax collectors and sinners, so I imagine that in Simon’s mind what he was seeing merely confirmed the doubts he already had about Jesus’ legitimacy as a teacher from God.  Jesus knew what Simon was thinking, and said, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”  “Speak,” he replied.

“A certain creditor had two people who owed him money.  One owed him 500 days’ wages, the other 50. He forgave both debtors. Which one will love him more?”

“I suppose the one who owed more.”

“That’s right,” said Jesus.  “Do you see this woman?”  Jesus then pointed out that this woman had shown Jesus far greater love and hospitality than Simon had as Jesus’ host. Although her sins were many, she had been forgiven much, and therefore she loved much.  Simon, meanwhile, who apparently thought he had little for which he needed to be forgiven, loved little.  Then Jesus declared the woman's sins forgiven.

“Do you see this woman?”  I’m sure Simon thought he saw her.  But in reality he saw certain things about her.  He saw a sinner.  He saw unworthiness.  He saw an intruder, an unwelcome guest.  But he didn’t see her for who she was as a child of God.  Jesus did.  He saw her love.  He saw her contrition.  He saw one the establishment rejected whom God was inviting into God’s Kingdom.  He saw one whose sins he had the power to forgive, and he did so.

Who are the people you and I don’t really see?  Who are the people we see as sinners, outsiders, unworthy, instead of seeing them as God’s beloved children?  (pause)  I believe every one of us can name individuals and/or categories of people it is hard to see as beloved by God.  My list, for instance, includes the Kardashians and Donald Trump.  Your list is undoubtedly different.  Yet the fact remains that, regardless what you or I may find wrong with any individual or group, God loves them.

Why does this matter?  To answer this, let’s look at our lesson from 1 Kings.

At that time, Ahab was king of Israel.  He was not a faithful worshiper of God.  He also seems to have been rather a weak-willed individual.  The real force in the palace, it seems, was his wife, Queen Jezebel.  Jezebel was not an Israelite; she was the daughter of the king of Sidon, and worshiped the fertility god Baal.  Ahab followed suit.  The prophet Elijah was very active in those days trying to get Ahab to repent, but that didn’t happen.

In today’s Scripture from 1 Kings chapter 21, we read about Ahab’s attempt to obtain a vineyard next to the palace from its owner, a man named Naboth.  Ahab wanted it for a vegetable garden.  Ahab tried to buy the vineyard, and also offered to trade Naboth a better vineyard for it.  Naboth, however, was not interested in selling the family vineyard, which had been in his family a long time, so he told the king no.

Now a person with a reasonable level of emotional maturity would have taken Naboth’s “no” for an answer and gone on with life.  But that’s not how Ahab responded.  Instead, he went back to the palace, retreated to his bedroom, and sulked.  He was so upset he even refused to eat.  Queen Jezebel asked him what was wrong, and he told her.  She replied, “Come on!  Aren’t you the king of Israel?  Don’t be such a wuss.  I’ll get you that vineyard.”  So Jezebel arranged to have Naboth falsely accused of cursing God and the king, convicted, and executed.  Then she told Ahab to take possession of the vineyard, because Naboth was dead.  When Ahab went to do so, he was met by the prophet Elijah, who informed Ahab of God’s judgment upon him and Jezebel.

I submit that Ahab and Jezebel did not see Naboth and Elijah for who they truly were.  They saw Naboth merely as someone who was getting in the way of what they wanted, and because that’s all they saw him as, they decided he was disposable.  They saw Elijah in the same way, except because he was God’s prophet and their harshest critic they considered him even more of a threat, as an enemy.  Jezebel had tried to kill him, too.  

This tells me that when we don’t see people for who they are as beloved children of God, it becomes very easy to see them as obstacles to our own selfish desires, as contemptible, as disposable.  This kind of thinking goes on far too often in our world.  It is hard for many people to see those who are “different” as beloved children of God, and easy to see them as contemptible, disgusting, outsiders who we then have the freedom to ignore or mistreat.  

Simon thought he could look down upon the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet because she was a “sinner”.  Guess what?  I’m a sinner.  You’re a sinner.  Every human being is a sinner.  We all fall short of the glory of God.  Behaving selfishly, despising and mistreating others, and putting other things ahead of God are just as sinful as sexual misbehavior.  And other than Jesus, no human being gets it right all the time.

The good news, however, is that we are not made right with God by keeping God’s commandments.  While they remind us of how God wants us to live, the fact remains that every one of us falls short of meeting their high standard.  God sees us as we are, and loves us anyway.  We are made right with God, not by keeping the rules, but by trusting in Jesus Christ.  Our sinful selves were crucified with him.  Moreover, Christ lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Christ enables us to see others as God sees them.  Christ enables us to treat one another and all others as beloved children of God.  Even when we get it wrong (which we often do), God forgives our sin and restores us to himself.

We need to recognize our sinfulness and turn to God for forgiveness.  The harsh judgment Elijah proclaimed against Ahab and Jezebel was because they refused to acknowledge their sin.  They believed they were totally justified in worshipping idols and mistreating people to get what they wanted.  

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet had a far different attitude than Ahab and Jezebel.  This woman knew she was a sinner.  She knew her life needed to be different.  She came weeping to Jesus, even risking further scorn from others to get there, and went away forgiven.

Let us come before the throne of God, acknowledging our sinfulness and seeking God’s mercy.  May we know ourselves forgiven.  May we know Christ alive in us, helping us to see others as God sees them and to treat others the way God wants us to treat them.  Amen.

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