Sunday, February 17, 2013

Jesus Had Bad Manners (Luke 7:36-43; 15:1-2)

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him.  After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table.
Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house.  She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster.  Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wipe his face with her tears.  She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them.  When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him.  He would know that she is a sinner.
Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
“Teacher, speak,” he said.
“A certain lender had two debtors.  One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work.  The other owed enough for fifty.  When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debs of them both.  Which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”
Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him.  The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

They say there are three things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company: religion, politics, and sex.  Next time you’re having a fancy dinner party and want to keep the conversation polite, remember not to invite Jesus, because if Jesus shows up, he’s likely to talk about all three.  If you’re concerned about keeping things polite, Jesus is the last person you want there.
Today we are concluding a message series called, “Surprising Things They Never Told You About Jesus.”  Over the last five weeks, we’ve looked at episodes in Jesus’ life that often get overlooked in how good church folk like us typically understand and experience Jesus.  The picture we often portray of Jesus is kinda boring, and the goal of this series is to open up an understanding of Jesus that is both more faithful to Scripture, and infinitely more interesting, in the hopes that all of us will be renewed in our desire to get to know Jesus better.
The first week we learned this surprising thing about Jesus: Jesus could party.  In contrast to the dour and serious demeanor of so many Christians, Jesus actually invites us to a joy-filled, abundant, never-ending party in his presence, and is himself the life of the party.
Then we learned that Jesus got ticked off.  In particular, he gets ticked off when people of faith insist on imposing laws on other people, but are unable or unwilling to first love those people.  What pleases Jesus is when relationship precedes rule-following.
Then we learned that Jesus destroyed buildings.  Whereas our human tendency is to build a sacred structure for God and come to revere what we have built rather than the God for whom we built it, Jesus reminds us that the truest temple of God is the human heart, and invites us to give the greatest of our attention to what’s going on in here.
Last week’s surprising thing was that Jesus taught teenagers.  We looked at his call of his first followers, and realized that they were young, and at least a few of them were teenagers.  We took this understanding as a call for each of us, regardless of our age, to have young hearts - hearts that are open and flexible, hearts that are both able to hear to hear the call of Jesus, and willing to follow it.
Today we learn that Jesus had bad manners - probably not what you wanted to hear if you already think polite society is going to hell in a handbasket, but there are times where following polite social norms are a barrier to faith, and thus a real and present danger to our souls.
Imagine, if you will, that you have received an invitation to dinner.  It’s being hosted by a respected and wealthy person in town and you know that invitations have only gone out to folks on the A-list, and you got an invitation!  Doesn’t it feel good to be one of the important people?
The evening of the dinner comes, and you put on your tuxedo or cocktail dress and drive over to the wealthy side of town.  An army of valets is waiting to park your car, and you enter the ornate front doors of the home, where just inside a man confirms your identity with those listed on the guest list, and invites you to enter, and says, “Welcome!  Have a good time.”
This is the scene for a dinner party Jesus was invited to in the 7th chapter of Luke.  A Pharisee named Simon - a person of some prestige and influence in his city - is throwing a dinner party.  Jesus is invited, as are all of Simon’s social circle, people of prominence and good-standing, for a pleasant and polite evening.
The party is interrupted when “a woman of the city” bursts in.  “Woman of the city” is a rather polite way of saying that this was a woman with a reputation.  She was no stranger to the invited guests, indeed, she was no stranger to practically anybody, and she was unwelcome in this polite company.  She doesn’t belong here, she is the wrong kind of person, she is a sinner.
But then, it gets even worse.  Shocking, even.  She falls at the feet of Jesus and sobs so uncontrollably that her tears are streaking through the dust on his calloused feet, and she realizes the mess she’s making and wipes his feet dry with the closest thing she can think of - her own hair.
This dinner party is social catastrophe.  This woman - this sinful woman - knows how out-of-place she is.  She knows her place is out there with the rest of the trash, not in here with good, respectable folks like us.   One of these things is not like the other; everyone knows that this woman - this sinful woman - doesn’t belong here; everyone, except Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t seem to know that he’s supposed to be embarrassed by such intimate contact with this woman.  He doesn’t seem to know that his reputation is threatened.  Any proper man of good social standing would have been horrified and angry, but Jesus just lets her touch him, which causes his host to think, “This guy is a fraud.  If he were really the prophet he claims to be, he would know who this woman is who is touching him, and what a big sinner she is.”
But maybe Jesus isn’t as clueless as the polite and well-mannered dinner guests want to believe.  Jesus tells a story to make plain that he does indeed know what sort of woman she is, and more than that, Jesus knows more about his host and the other guests than they realized.  Ouch.
“A certain lender had two debtors.  One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work.  The other owed enough for fifty.  When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debs of them both.  Which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”
Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”
It is tempting to paint Simon, the host, and the other guests as so heavenly-bound they’re no earthly good.  I think that goes too far.  Simon is much like many genuine religious people we meet today who have perhaps grown up in church, never lived all that wild or crazy, and were, for the most part, good people. 
Unlike this sinful woman, his life has never hit rock bottom.  He knows nothing of the pain and desperation that forced this woman into such a disreputable line of work.  His spirit has never been so parched that he felt the need to drink deeply at the well of divine grace.  He’s not a bad guy - it’s just that is faith is kinda shallow.  He’s annoyed because this woman has ruined his party and if she hangs around too long, his reputation will be dragged as low as hers.
Simon has worked his entire life to build a good name and reputation for himself, and in one instant, this sinful woman is threatening everything he holds dear.  He sees her not as a child of God, but as a threat to his own goodness, and he hates that she rudely thrust herself into his perfect and predictable world.  He is so anxious to do right and to be right and to look good that he fails to see how his own desire for goodness gets in the way.  He is blind to the fact that he too is a sinner forgiven and healed by grace, and yet she is the one who drinks most deeply from the well of grace, and she is the one whose spirit is quenched and whose sin is forgiven.
Meanwhile the host and the invited guests remain parched, the foolish pride of their own hearts standing between them and the genuine, healing, life-giving touch of Jesus they so desperately need.
They are so worried about their own reputation, they miss seeing the transforming work of God in the human heart even when it happens right before their eyes.  We don’t want to do that!  We don’t want to be so worried about our own reputation that we miss seeing the kingdom of God breaking forth in our midst.  It was right there!  It was happening in his home, and he missed it!  How tragic is that??  We look around at the world and we’re horrified by what we see and we yell out, “God, where are you???” and we miss what God is doing right in front of us.
Simon missed it.  His guests missed it.  But the sinful woman, she who is an outcast among outcasts, sees Jesus for who he is, and in him she sees the kingdom of God right here and now.
How about us?  The challenge for us is to respond like this woman - with great love and gratitude.  We first have to recognize how much Christ has done for us - not for other people, not for anyone else, but each of us has got to recognize how much Christ has done for us.  And then, when other people show up in the places where Jesus is - especially those who look different or have a reputation or are the “wrong kind of people” or are just the sort of people we are uncomfortable around, that’s our cue to get excited and say, “Oh Jesus!  What are you up to today?”
The good and godly people around Jesus grumbled, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” and you can almost hear Jesus respond, “Yes, I do - what of it?”  Thank God Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them; it means Jesus can even welcome a sinner like me.
Friends, God welcomes sinners like us; we joyfully welcome others.  May we be found weeping at the feet of Jesus and inviting others to do the same.  God’s grace has been given to us - thank God!   May we be a community who is constantly experiencing and extending God’s grace.
I am grateful and surprised to learn that Jesus had such bad manners, that he couldn’t care less about cultural norms and social protocol.  What gets Jesus excited are transformed lives.  I am grateful that Jesus busted into my life when it wasn’t convenient or polite or proper or on my timetable.  Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them; that’s not something to grumble about, it’s something to be grateful for.  I’d much rather be grateful to be a sinner welcomed by Jesus than a self-righteous person whose whole life has been an adventure in missing the point.
Surprise someone this week with your bad manners.  Willingly cross polite social boundaries, so that all people will come to know the saving grace and forgiveness of Jesus.  Live out our call to be a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners.
It’ll be the end of polite society as we know it, and a sign that the kingdom of God is among us.

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