18 June 1998, Faith Lutheran Church, Hutchinson
Second Sunday after Pentecost [pr. 6]
Gospel Text: Luke 7.36-8.3
“Christian, I have something to say to you…”
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
“Bob, I’ve got something to say to you…” When someone approaches me with this phrase, I find myself automatically completing it. “I’ve got something to say to you, and you’re probably not going to like it too much.”
We’ve all been in that place. Someone comes up to us, maybe holding back a little and trying to be as non-threatening as possible. Quite likely they’re trying to gauge our openness to a little constructive criticism. And then they drop the bombshell: “I’ve got something to say to you…You’ve been really surly the last week.” Or, “It really bothers me when you talk about me that way with your friends.” Or, “Can’t you ever make time in your busy schedule for your own family?”
As soon as we hear the key words, “I’ve got something to say to you,” most of us gear up for the worst. We fall back into a defensive attitude and try to refute whatever our sudden “adversary” says. Even the truth there might be to the criticism often makes us more defensive than ever.
So how many of us cringe at the thought of Jesus putting his hand on our shoulder and saying, “Christian, I have something I need to say to you”?
This is exactly the boat Simon the Pharisee finds himself in, in the gospel text for this morning. Let’s put ourselves in Simon’s shoes and see how we would react to Jesus’ little heart-to-heart.
Imagine you’re having a party – a dinner party for your boss and a few of the top execs at your company, let’s say. Since you’re up for a promotion, it’s important that everything is just right. You spend the entire week leading up to the party cleaning your home. You buy a snazzy new suit just for the occasion. You order fancy catering that costs way more than you’d want your spouse to know.
Once your guests arrive, you show them to the dining room, seating them around the perfectly set table. One of them, a top manager by the name of Jesus (whom you’re determined to impress, since he’s probably the one who’ll make the promotion decision) is the life of the party. He’s talking and laughing, and entertaining everyone with his quick wit and humorous stories. Everything seems to be going perfectly…until she arrives.
“She” is the woman from down the street. You’ve seen her a few times standing in her front yard, but you’re not real sure of her name. There’s no mistaking her, though: short, ratty hair sticking out from under a gaudy hat that clearly went out of style in the 70s; gnarly buck teeth jutting here and there when she grins; a squinty, cross-eyed expression that makes you shiver a bit every time you see it. On top of that, you’ve seen more than just a few men leaving her front porch early in the morning, as you drive to work. Yes, she has a bit of a history in this town…and now she is somehow in your home!
As soon as she sees the manager, Jesus, she bolts toward him with her arms wide open. Falling to her knees she embraces him. She’s weeping hysterically, although you couldn’t for the life of you say why. When she realizes that her tears are staining his expensive dress pants, this woman tries to blot them dry with her hair! Now she’s staring up at him with – is this right? – with love in her eyes. Is it possible that she knows him somehow? He couldn’t have been one of her early morning guests, could he?
Your blood pressure rising, your promotion fading away into oblivion before your very eyes, you grab blindly for the phone. Halfway through the motion of dialing 9-1-1 you notice that Mr. Jesus isn’t trying to shoo the woman away. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be bothered or upset at her presence at all! As you hang the phone up in disbelief, he actually takes her into his arms and embraces her. Jesus notices you gawking, and he speaks up: “Come here. I’ve got something to say to you.”
Freeze frame there for a second. How are you feeling about things at this moment? Your dinner seems to be ruined. Your chances for impressing the bigwigs have all but flown out the window. And to top it all off, the same Jesus who holds your fate in his hands is standing over there hugging the person – a really unpleasant person, I might add – who’s caused you all this grief And now he seems to want a word with you, to chide you?
It’s all too easy for us to read the story of Simon the Pharisee and wag our finger at him. After all, he should have had pity on his uninvited guest, even showed her kindness. Since we know how “Jesus stories” go, we know that Simon will turn out to be in the wrong, and that the woman who loved Jesus will be exonerated. But if we had been the hosts of that dinner, would our reaction have been that much different than Simon’s? I don’t think it would have been.
When Jesus says, “Simon, I have something to say to you,” did you notice Simon’s reaction? He’s immediately on guard. When Jesus tells the parable about the lender and the debtors and asks Simon his take on it, Simon senses a trap. He reluctantly answers Jesus with an, “I suppose.” After that, he seems to fall silent. He doesn’t care to hear what Jesus has to say to him, because it obviously can’t apply to him.
Is Jesus simply being spiteful when he points out Simon’s shortcomings as a host? Is he mean-spirited to chide his host while welcoming an unwanted guest? Doesn’t Jesus have any manners at all? What does he want from Simon, and why shouldn’t Simon get defensive?
The answer is simple: Jesus wants the Pharisee to love him like he loves Simon. His words are meant to help Simon see his own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, not to shame him in front of his friends. Jesus knows that only a person who has been forgiven can show the kind of love the woman is showing, the kind of love Jesus wants from Simon, too. But Simon shuts himself off from Jesus’ loving correction out of pride.
Our Old Testament lesson also tells us of a man who is confronted by God. That man is David, the second and greatest king of Israel. Loved by his people and the Lord, David was the standard by which every other ruler of the Israelites was measured. Yet even David was capable of sin, and even David tried to hide his sin to exonerate himself.
The treachery of David was, of course, the way he came to marry his wife Bathsheba. Sending her husband into a certain death in battle, King David freed her to marry him instead. The whole sordid mess was covered up, and it seemed David had gotten away with murder, until the prophet Nathan confronted him. “David,” the prophet said, “the Lord has something to say to you.” And when he was shown the truth, David’s reaction couldn’t have been more different from Simon’s.
David, you see, was open to correction from his God. God had shown him that he was in the wrong, and instead of getting defensive, instead of offering tired excuses, instead of lashing out at God, David accepted God’s words and repented. After this experience, David came to love the Lord even more. His own words in Psalm 32 show the depth of his penitence and forgiveness:
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Be glad you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.”
When the Lord shows you your faults, when he asks you to change or to grow, how will you respond? Will you open your heart to him and his correcting love like David, or will you fight to justify yourself before him in righteous indignation, like Simon the Pharisee? The choice is yours. How will you react when God says to you, “Christian, I have something to say to you”?