February 26th: “Miracle of Forgiveness”

This Week’s Passage: Luke 7:36-50

Highlights: Jesus reverses those who are “in” and those who are “out”. Those who assumed they were saved by their works of righteousness are found guilty and those who recognize their debt before God are forgiven and go out in great joy. We can then come together as a community of forgiven sinners.

I. Establish the text

C. Texts for Year B on the 1stSunday in Lent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

36 Was this a normal occurrence for Jesus to be invited to dinner with Pharisees? cf Luke 15. The Pharisees note that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.

37 Luke does not tell us what the woman’s sins were, so we may write in whatever we consider to be sinful.

38 “Feet” may also be used as a euphemism for genitals.

38 Why is does Luke note that the jar is alabaster, but not note what kind of perfume is in the jar? Alabaster is the necessary container for myrrh ointment because of its sensitivity to light.

39 NB those tears sufficient to wet are usually a sign of histrionics; pretend rather than genuine emotions.

41 denarii = a days wages for a common laborer. Thus: 8 hrs x $7.5 = $60. 500 denarii = $30,000. 50 denarii = $3,000

39-43 Jesus is challenged on applying the law and responds with his own question of legal implications.

47 The Greek is ambiguous about who is forgiven much and who is forgiven little. It is not a direct condemnation of Simon.

48 This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins! But Luke knew that Jesus was God.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • In verse 47, many variants lack: “her many sins.” Thus leaving the phrase ambiguous about the gender of who is forgiven much or little.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • Matthew 26:6-13 – In Bethany, in the home of Simon, a man with a skin disease. The disciples complain about the waste. The anointing is received as preparation for burial. “Whenever the story is told it will be told in remembrance of her.”
  • Mark 14:3 – In Bethany, in the home of Simon the leper. “The people” become angry about the waste. Received as preparation for burial. “Whenever the story is told it will be told in remembrance of her.”
  • John 12:3 – In the house of Mary, the brother of Lazarus, in Bethany. Mary pours a pint of pure nard on his feet and wipes it with her hair. Judas complains. Received as preparation for burial.
  • Luke 7:36-50 – Luke’s theme is repentance and the accepting of forgiveness. He uses the pharisees repeatedly as being blind to accepting forgiveness of sins. This event occurs in Galilee early in Jesus’ ministry.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

The woman does not speak any words, and is only addressed directly at the end of the story, and remains nameless. The woman showed her love for Jesus in buying the expensive ointment and washing her feet with her tears. Simon does not acknowledge her aloud, only to himself. If not for Jesus, she might have remained anonymous and disappeared when the table had been cleared.

Simon becomes a metaphor for all of the pharisees, and by extension, all people who presume they are living within the law.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

Some commentaries interpret the woman’s welcoming rituals as erotic. Could these actions be deliberately sensual to elicit revulsion from the reader as expressed by Simon?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: All have sinned and owe a great debt to friends, neighbors, and especially to God. Those who recognize their sins and remorsefully repent, will receive forgiveness.
  • Music: “Amazing Grace”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The woman’s profuse love and gratitude as opposed to Simon’s reserved attitude toward Jesus.
  • The woman’s free and open penitence as opposed to Simon’s apparent feeling of not needing such penitence.
  • Jesus’ attitude toward the woman as opposed to Simon’s attitude toward her. “What she needs is a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners. This text screams for a church, not just any church but one that says,`You are welcome.'” (Craddock, Interpretation: Luke)

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • How big is my debt? Am I ignoring it or over playing my remorse?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Fred B. Craddock (Interpretation: Luke, John Knox Press, 1990) encourages readers to separate this encounter as recorded by Luke from other similar encounters recorded in the other Gospels. He cautions interpreters to avoid the erotic implications of how the woman provides the usual welcoming activities of feet washing, a kiss, and anointing. He asks “Where does one go when told by Christ ‘Go in peace’?”

R. Alan Culpepper (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Luke”, Abingdon, 1995) places this unit as the culmination of other units demonstrating Jesus as more than a prophet. He suggests that Luke has used an older story that was mingled with stories of anointing Jesus prior to his death. He notes that first century dinners would have had a public component unknown today. [Would a dinner in a restaurant compare?] He acknowledges the sexual overtones of the woman’s actions and implications of being touched by someone who is ceremonially unclean. He notes that posing riddles was a normal part of dinner conversation. He clarifies that the woman loves Jesus and treats him kindly because she has been forgiven much (past perfect divine passive) by parallel with the riddle and at the same time not forgiven because she loved deeply. Under his reflections on the passage, Culpepper notes the double shame that Simon has suffered: (1) a harlot has entered his home and attended to his guest in the presence of his other guests and (2) Simon’s guest of honor has called attention to the host’s lack of hospitality.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus reverses the ins and the outs. Those who assumed they were saved by their works of righteousness are found guilty and those who recognize their debt before God are forgiven and go out in great joy. We can then come together as a community of forgiven sinners.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

We are ineligible to sit at the table where we assume we belong. But, once we come before Christ to whom we owe the debt, we find the debt canceled.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Realize that we sit too much of the time at the table with the Pharisees, sure of our righteousness and acting within the law, only to be found guilty of gross breeches of hospitality. Realizing our guilt we too come penitently before God who grants us grace. Realizing the gift of grace we go out with great rejoicing.

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