Follow the women: Reflections on the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time-6/12/16

The readings for this Sunday are wonderful: Great love is shown by God and by the women in the gospel of Luke. Sins are forgiven when our hearts turn to God no matter how terrible those sins are, as in the case of King David guilty of murder and adultery and more (2 Samuel 12:7-10,13).  We can only imagine that David could finally breathe again when he heard: “…God forgave your sin; you will not die.” And in the Gospel, Luke 7:36-8:3, we see a woman, deemed “a sinner” by the Pharisees/religious leaders, who turns to Jesus in great love, anointing his weary feet despite the presence of her judges, experiencing his understanding, forgiveness and love and giving her best to him. I love the point Kathryn Matthews, UCC Pastor and preacher, makes:  This woman knows she is in the presence of God and is completely free in relating to Jesus despite those who surround her with judgement. And, I also love the end of this Gospel reading where the women loyal to Jesus, forgiven and healed, are finally named.  In so much of the Scriptures, including the Gospels, women simply are called “the women” but here we see the names of Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna “and many others” who accompanied Jesus and the male disciples on their evangelizing journeys and ,in fact, even supported their work.  Jesus says to the woman who anointed his feet in the midst of severe criticism “Her many sins were forgiven her, because she has shown great love”.Obviously Mary, Joanna and Susanna showed great love as well. Let us rejoice in these women, whether or not we are surrounded by the judgement of others,and let us follow them in showing great love.

From Rev. Kathryn Matthews:  www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_June_12_2016

Additional reflection on Luke 7:36-8:3:

“It’s very common these days, around the church, to hear the phrase, “We’re all sinners.” Usually it’s in connection with the struggle of the churches to deal with accepting or not accepting gay folks, but it could also apply to, say, divorced and remarried people (which used to be quite scandalous) or people who have been in prison (their sentence is never really over in some minds) or people who are living with HIV/AIDS (we tend to judge people for how they got sick, or how we think they got sick). In any case, we still think there is a subtle, double standard of “sinnerhood”: there are sinners, and then there are sinners.

In this story, the woman who washes Jesus’ feet out of extravagant gratitude and love is a notorious “sinner” in the town. She’s really a sinner with a capital S. Simon the religious leader may be a sinner because “we’re all sinners,” but that’s different. His status as a sinner doesn’t make him unworthy to have Jesus visit his home, along with certain other preferred guests, and it certainly doesn’t put him above judging the intruder and even judging Jesus himself as he witnesses the scene before him.

Simon is too busy to notice

Simon’s not moved or touched by the woman’s love and tenderness, and he’s not impressed by Jesus’ apparent lack of discernment and taste. In fact, he’s so busy judging that he forgets to take care of the basics of hospitality himself, so it’s ironic that the man with all the resources at his command (we can almost picture the setting in his comfortable home) doesn’t use them generously for the sake of his guest, and then he turns a blind eye to the grace of a lowly woman entering uninvited into his little party. If Jesus used the term “debts” to speak of the relief of being forgiven (and how many of us wouldn’t love to be forgiven all our debts, financial and otherwise?), it’s as if this man Simon hasn’t gone online lately to check his credit card balance and doesn’t know just how deep he is in trouble.

Of course, the real twist can be for us, reading the text today. We love the intruder woman and want to identify with her, right? Sometimes it’s hard to find the character we connect with most closely in a story from the Bible. In the prodigal son story, for example, when we take the side of the older brother who has been working hard and doing the right thing all along and has a right to feel outrage at a party being thrown for his good-for-nothing brother, we forget that we probably resemble the prodigal son much more than the righteous older brother. But in this story and in the church, we may find ourselves behaving more like the Pharisee than the open-hearted woman returning in gratitude, even though we find ourselves judging him in our own hearts.
The freedom to enjoy grace

Ironically, it’s the woman in this story who has both power and freedom: she does what she wants to do, from the bottom of her heart, and she is free of worry about what people think about the propriety of her actions.  Rebecca J. Kruger Gaudino sees in her humility an awareness of God’s presence that we should all strive to achieve: “From this foundational principle that reorients our lives from self to divine Presence, all the other principles flow: how we bear ourselves, how we speak, how we live in community, and to what degree we may reveal ourselves to others. In all things, we live out of the humility that comes in recognizing God’s presence among us” (New Proclamation Year C 2007). (Emphasis mine- JL)

Simon, unfortunately, wasn’t in tune with God’s presence in the midst of his party, in the grace experienced by this woman forgiven, the wisdom and tender love of Jesus, who accepted her gratitude, and his own need for God’s mercy and understanding, which were available to him in the person of Jesus, right there before his eyes. Instead, his eyes were clouded by judgment and he missed a golden opportunity for grace….”

In the reading from Galatians 2:16,19-21 we learn that it is faith that justifies us, not the Law and not even good works. David’s faith in a God who could forgive; the anointing woman’s faith in Jesus to accept her and her offerings of love; and the faith of Mary, Joanna and Susanna and many other woman as well as the men who followed Jesus as he loved inclusively and showed us the way of justice and compassion freed each of them to love as Jesus did. However, there are two interpretations of the faith that saves and frees us: first, it is interpreted as our faith in Christ;but the early Greek meanings also imply that it is the faith of Jesus, the faithfulness of Christ that frees us not even our own faith.

Perhaps it is the power of faith in a forgiving ,loving God whose faithfulness demonstrates what love is that frees us. Let us then be as free as the women in this Gospel ,and let us include everyone in our love.

Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP

Co-Pastor The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers

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