Sunday, June 16, 2013

The unlevel playing field

Someone asked me the other day "Why do you go to church every Sunday and talk about the same stories you've been talking about for 2000 years?"

Because the world still hasn't got it yet.

I do not mean that I think everyone should convert to any one religion.  What I mean is that religious or not, much of scripture from every world religion evokes wisdom and lessons that it would behoove us to learn and to practice.

Today's Gospel passage (Luke 7:36-8:3) tells one such story.  It is the story of an unusual encounter between Jesus, a Pharisee and a woman who is identified only as "a sinner".  Tradition hold that she was a prostitute, even though Scripture does not actually specify what the nature of her sins were.  But let's just proceed under that assumption, because it adds a great deal of meaning to the story.

The woman, believing Jesus to be at least a prophet of God, is seeking forgiveness for her sins, which he freely gives.

But the Pharisee is actually the subject of the Gospel passage.  Ironically, the Pharisee does not seem to realize that he stands in need of Jesus forgiveness as well, and on a much more personal basis: the rules of hospitality in ancient Jewish culture were well-established (foot-washing, the kiss of welcome, anointing), and the Pharisee had shown Jesus none of those courtesies.  Furthermore, he apparently had no remorse for his lack of courtesy.

Why was this?  Perhaps because the Pharisee saw himself as superior to Jesus, and therefore he did not have to show those courtesies to an inferior.  He certainly saw himself as superior to the woman sinner, and he judges her accordingly.

But Jesus, in that uncanny way he had, turns social convention on its head and says that the woman has been forgiven much, and therefore loves much and is much loved.  He flips the tables and lets the room know that the woman is therefore more important and blessed than any of them.  Not the wealthy, the respected, the well-to-do, the pure.

No, the blessed are the poor, disrespected, hard-luck, the impure.

Have we really come that far since Jesus' time?  We still see wealth and social standing as an objective measure of importance.  We still make detours around street people rather than reach out to them in compassion.  Education and pedigree makes us more worth listening to.

Jesus would (and did) tell us that this is rubbish.

One day, maybe the world will get it.

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.

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