Be Saved and Repent
June 13, 2010
“This is crazy,” the woman thought, as she made her way toward Simon’s house. But she had to do something to let Jesus know how he had changed her life and how grateful she was. So she grabbed the perfume. It was a gift from one of her regulars. He had spent a lot of money on it, but he had a lot of money to spend. She was only supposed to use it for him. But she didn’t care. He was going to have to take his business elsewhere, anyway. She was done with him and the others. She was done.
She knew the only way she could get to Jesus was to just walk right in to Simon’s house as if she belonged there. Of course, she was well aware that no woman belonged there, especially a woman like her. But even though she wasn’t that woman any more, she was still a woman.
The thought of it actually made her let out a little laugh. “I can’t wait to see the look on their faces. How am I going to get past Simon, though? That holy roller, that guardian of the law, has never paid me a personal visit. So he won’t come off like a hypocrite, anyway, if he tries to shoo me away. I’ll have to figure out something when I get there.”
It turned out, though, that Simon wasn’t about to stop her. This was perfect. He couldn’t have planned it any better himself. They were all looking for a way to put an end to this nonsense. Jesus said this. Jesus did that. That Nazarene, of questionable parentage no less, claimed to know more about God than the Pharisees, the priests, the teachers of the law combined. But look at that woman crawling all over him like she’s been there before. They will be talking about Jesus all right. But the things they are going to say now.
There she was, letting down her hair, no less. But as Jesus watched her it wasn’t with the lust and judgment that was in the eyes of her customers. But Simon didn’t notice any of that because all he was doing was waiting for Jesus to go slinking out of there. This was shaping up to be Simon’s best dinner party ever. Not only was Jesus getting knocked off his pedestal, but here was poor, righteous Simon forced to suffer such an indignity in his own home. He could make this go a long way.
Jesus wasn’t leaving, though. Simon couldn’t believe what was happening. “Why is everybody staring at me instead of Jesus and his pathetic little hooker. And now he’s speaking to me, looking me right in the eyes, as if we were some sort of equals. What? He’s telling me one of his stupid little stories. What nerve!”
Simon had Jesus on the ropes, but now Jesus had come out swinging. Simon knew he had to be careful. More than one of his colleagues had walked into these traps Jesus set.
At first hearing, though, Simon thought he did okay. Maybe he wasn’t the punch line of the story after all. It was a story about debts being forgiven. Everybody knew he hadn’t piled up the moral and religious debts like that woman had. She was the one who needed forgiveness, not him. But Jesus wasn’t done.
What was that accusation they often made about Jesus? “He eats with sinners. Wine bibbers, tax collectors, and prostitutes.” Well you can add another one to the list, Pharisees. Even though Jesus knew that Simon and his friends were hostile to him, he accepted Simon’s invitation anyway. Jesus was at that dinner as much for Simon as the woman. But she was the one who realized that.
“Simon,” Jesus said. “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? Pay attention to this Simon. She is the one who, like God, offers radical hospitality. Not you. It’s not enough to open your little dinner parties to a traveling preacher. She is the one tearing down the walls. She has figured out something about God that you haven’t.”
Simon was stunned. And the woman had forgotten about the other people. She was past caring about what they had to say about her. “But why is he telling me my sins have been forgiven,” she wondered. “I already knew that. That’s why I came in the first place. It must be for the Pharisee and his friends. If they would just pay attention to Jesus they would be down here washing his feet with me.” That image brought another smile to her face.
I don’t know if she was paying attention to that little story Jesus told about the two debtors and the banker. But unlike Simon, who was paying close attention to everything Jesus said and did, she knew what Jesus meant. This was a woman who knew what it was like to have the debt canceled, to know the freedom that comes with forgiveness.
I wonder, though, if Jesus isn’t getting it wrong here. I’ve always been told that God demands the debt be paid, big or small. It’s not canceled. God finds somebody else to pay it. Jesus. But not in the story Jesus told Simon. The banker doesn’t say to the two debtors I will go find some benevolent benefactor to pay your debts for you, so that I will get what I require. The banker just cancels the debt.
It kind of blows the whole theory we have been working with. You know, we confess our sins, our indebtedness, to God, and God has Jesus pay off the debt for us. Repent and be saved.
But that’s not the way it was in this story. The woman got saved first, and then the repentance came. She knew that what Jesus was talking about, what reduced her to tears and made her bold enough to let down her hair in front of all those men, was a lot more than a self improvement program. It was way beyond being a better person and cleaning up her act. It was about finding the life Jesus talked about, it was about believing in the God Jesus believed in, not the god Simon believed in. “How crazy is this?,” she thought, “Simon and I need the same thing. But he doesn’t know that yet.”
The story says that Jesus left that place accompanied by the 12 and many women. Maybe she was one of them. Who knows? It could well be. Where else was she going to go?
The same person who wrote this story in the Book of Luke also wrote the book of Acts and talks about how a great many of the Pharisees became followers of Jesus. Maybe Simon was one of them. Imagine Simon and this woman, church members together in Jerusalem.
Obviously, I don’t know that Simon and the woman were ever in church together. But I know that we are. And that’s an amazing thing. It’s enough to make you let down your hair and weep. We get to follow Jesus together, to be on the look out for God with each other, to find that thing that enabled that woman to take such risk to be with Jesus.
I don’t know if they ever finished or even started that meal at Simon’s house. The woman kind of disrupted things, and ended up causing all kinds of trouble.
Maybe that’s what we get to do too. Disrupt things. Cause trouble because we are so taken by the life we are finding in Jesus we don’t know what else to do but break the rules. It’s enough to make you cry.