Date: June 14, 1998 Where: Picnic Words: 1889
Sermon Title: Grumbling over Grace
Text: Luke 7:36-8:3
W. L: ? Invocation/Einleitung: Dave Klippenstein
Resources: IDB v.3; Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke
You know what sometimes gets me? People who complain that “we don't hear any more ‘real’ sermons about hellfire and brimstone.” “You preachers only preach about love and grace.” The sad thing about these comments is that these people do not think of themselves as the ones who need to hear “Hellfire and brimstone”, but rather that others are supposed to get that message.
I can’t help but wonder, whether these people who grumble about grace, have ever experienced the full impact of God’s grace and forgiveness in their lives? If they had, why do they want to keep others from experiencing the same grace?
Grace is a strange thing: we all want to claim it for ourselves... but sometimes we have difficulty extending it to the “undeserving” (as if we were “deserving”).
The Bible text is from the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50.
36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.
37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume,
38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is -- that she is a sinner."
40 Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said.
41 "Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"
43 Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.
46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."
48 Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
50 Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (NIV)
What does the text say to us? The Parallel Gospels (Mark 14:3-9 & Matt. 26:6-13) place this text within the context of the Passion story. There, Jesus is anointed by a woman on his way to the cross.
In Luke we see how Jesus reveals his divine power and his sympathy for the poor and outcasts of society. In Luke, Jesus expresses his redeeming love for sinners.
Simon, the Pharisee, (in Matthew and Mark he is known as Simon, the Leper) had invited Jesus to dinner, probably out of curiosity and with the intention to spy on him, rather than out of love.
Suddenly a woman, known to be a sinner, who had just recently come to know of the saving power of Jesus, came into the house uninvited. She was once labeled as a prostitute. But there's nothing in the story to suggest that. I wonder if she is called "a sinner" simply because she is an outsider, someone who, unlike Simon and his friends, may know little about Scripture (the Pharisees made Scripture study a full-time activity), knows little about the fine points of theology, and church politics.
Simon appears shocked when this woman appears and falls all over Jesus, letting her hair down, kissing his feet, pouring sweet-smelling perfume upon him. All of which leads Simon to grumble to himself, just loud enough for everyone at the table to hear him, "If this man were a prophet, a real prophet, he would be perceptive enough to see what kind of woman this is who is touching him."
“She's a sinner. Prophets are in the business of identifying, naming, and denouncing sin. Jesus calls himself a prophet and doesn't know what to do with sin and sinners?”
Jesus speaks to Simon, telling him a little parable about two debtors who have been forgiven (v. 42). One owed a small debt, which was forgiven; another owed a spectacularly large debt and it was forgiven. Now, think hard Simon, which forgiven man would have been the more grateful?
Simon reluctantly replies, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt."
The fact that Jesus didn’t jump, for fear of being touched by a known sinner, was proof enough for Simon, that he could not be a true prophet.
Now, Luke doesn’t say this, but if Simon, the “Pharisee” is also Simon, the “Leper” from Matthew and Mark, what does that say about how much grace he has experienced? While a leper was regarded as ceremonially unclean, the Bible never refers to leprosy as a type of sin. It was regarded as an act of God, and the healing of leprosy was interpreted as a miracle of divine grace (IDB v3). Was Jesus indirectly asking Simon, how much he loved God for his miraculous healing?
Luke’s story want’s to show the reader how ridiculous Simon’s reaction to the woman’s gesture really is. The grace that he received in his healing was a miracle of divine grace. Why would he then have such a bad attitude about another person receiving a similar grace?
Is there a sense in which our church is also offended from time to time by the grace of God in Christ? A pastor relates the following story from his ministry: “In one of my former churches, we began a program of evangelism” (this is something that we at Springfield Heights are planning for the fall). He continues, “We devised a strategy for a neighborhood canvass, to invite people to Christ. The good news is that the program worked. In only about three months, we had increased our worship attendance by thirty new members – the first our church had seen in a good while. The bad news is that my pastoral care load increased considerably. The folk whom we had evangelized had great needs that required a great deal of my pastoral time. A large proportion of those who came to our church for the first time had had difficulties in other congregations or in their family life. There seemed to be more dissention and squabbling. Before long, many of the old, established members began complaining about these newcomers. In other words, we had evangelized the wrong people! We wanted people like us, people who would "fit in," would contribute to the work of our church and not have too much to say about the way we did that work. Unfortunately, the grace of God is larger than many of our programs of evangelism!”
Jesus asks Simon, “Now, which of them will love him more?" Of course, the one for whom he canceled the greater debt. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the one who was forgiven much would be more pleased. Then Jesus turns on Simon, comparing his rather puny hospitality to that of the woman. Simon, as a Pharisee, who is so good, so right and righteous, that he has little for which to be forgiven, doesn't feel too extravagantly grateful for Jesus' graciousness. The woman, on the other hand, is so grateful, so filled with gratitude because of Jesus' graciousness toward her.
The story has an even greater impact if we consider that Simon was indeed a healed leper. Then his resentment toward Jesus, for offering God’s grace to the woman, is downright shameful.
Is this text relevant to us as members and friends of the Springfield Heights Church? You bet it is! This story makes us think about our assumptions and attitudes about who would be a deserving recipient of God’s grace. It challenges us to think about our practices when we accept people into our church community. Jesus encourages us to face the practices and traditions of our church that may not reflect God’s true character.
Our responsibility as individuals is to test ourselves against this story. Do we act like the pious Pharisee? Do we consider ourselves to be good, pious, religious people (with only a humble measure of sin)? Are we the kind that congratulate themselves and pray “Thank you, Jesus, that you have not made me a sinner, or an outcast, or even like this tax collector over here”!?
When you come before God, do you bring a resume or do you bring a thankful heart?
The question that was put to Simon also faces us: How does it feel to encounter the graciousness of God, the grace of a forgiving, loving God, when that graciousness is showered on someone who is a "sinner," an outsider, not one of us? When God’s amazing grace is given to someone else how does grace sound then? If we consider another person inferior to ourselves, a worse sinner, or perhaps a bit of a strange character, what does that say about our attitude toward God’s grace?
Grace is truly an amazing gift, as we love to sing. But, when it is grace toward someone else, well, then grace can be maddening!
As we learn from Jesus, our Teacher, let us celebrate God’s grace in our lives and extend it to others around us. When you are tempted to grumble and complain about God’s grace for others let us be reminded of Jesus’ response to the ungreatful Simon. When you are ready to call down hellfire and brimstone upon others as a celebration of God’s grace for you, think again about what Jesus said to Simon and to the sinful woman.
May God forgive us, when we are harsh on others. May we be wise and celebrate God’s grace toward all people.
Let us pray
God, whose nature is to be amazingly gracious, help us always to remember that we are here by your grace. You have called us, forgiven us, and enabled us to be your disciples. Yet so easily we confuse your graciousness with our virtues. We too quickly remember the sins of others and forget our own weaknesses. We take pride in our achievements, overlooking our failures, magnifying the shortcomings of others. Forgive us for our betrayals of your grace. Give us some measure of your inclusive love so that, in some way, we might see others as you see them and see ourselves as you see us.
Your grace is amazing. Amen.