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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cruelty of Some Kindness

We live in a "post-sin age." Most of my life, the concept of sin has been much maligned and in many quarters rejected. While this is especially true in some theological streams of the church, I think in general all people shy away from a sin consciousness. Those who believe in sin tend to believe in the sins of others. As I have often noted, most people readily admit that they "are not perfect." The challenge for them, however, is trying to figure out the exact content of that imperfection. Hence, the widespread belief that the most accurate self assessment is "I think I am pretty good."

Today's Gospel is found in Luke 7:36 to 8:3

It is a familiar text, though in part because it includes a story which (seemingly) occurs in all the Gospel with differences. [It is hard to know if Jesus had a couple of different women cry on his feet and annoint them or if one story has been "remembered" with different characters, much like memories tend to work for all of us]

Jesus is at meal. Typical of this time, the meal is "open" to the public. Folks could wander in to observe the conversation and many did. What is unusual is a woman of noted reputation arrives. Her presence, she is a public sinner, produces anxiety and is a dishonor to the host. (Remember in this culture honor is very important) The intitial question of the Host seems to be concerning the legitimacy of Jesus. "Is He a prophet?" We cannot underestimate the confusion and tension that the Lord Jesus created in the minds and hearts of the Jewish leaders of His time. The woman lays at Jesus' feet, covering them with tears. As she does so the Host, a Pharisee named Simon, decides to himself that Jesus is not a prophet for He does not seem to know what kind of woman she is. In a startling turn of events, Jesus reads the Pharisees mind and gives him a lesson in love, forgiveness and hospitality.

The story has echoes of the book of Ruth. Late at night Ruth, a Moabite (i.e. foreign woman) comes to sleep at the feet of Boaz. Later, Ruth becomes Boaz's wife (and produces a child, Obed, who is the granfather of King David). Letting one's hair down in public is a (sexually tinged) scandal in Jesus' day. A mystical reading of the text would reveal some salvation//marital imagery of the sinner/Gentile church and Jesus, however, I want to look at something more literal and obvious.

Jesus says the woman loves much because she has been forgiven much. Simon, Jesus says, fails to provide basic hospitality, he has little love. Simon does not see himself as a great sinner in need of great mercy. There lies the paradox. Many today think they are doing a great kindness by negating sin. They see themselves as freeing people from guilt and shame. It is almost like the desire in the church today is to create an atmosphere where no woman (or man) ever feels driven to cry and cling to the feet of Jesus. At first blush that may seem a kindness. It may appear that by focusing elsewhere we are freeing people from damaging self incrimination and undue stress. However, there is a cruelty at work here as well.

The woman was a sinner. Jesus says that her sins were many. Many sins; sort of harsh, but then Jesus never shied away from the truth. Many sins. Here sinful status is not in question. Jesus accepts it and publicly states it (by the way, in front of her!). However, He includes another dimension: God's mercy. The centerpiece of Jesus' mission is NOT the message, "hey you're not that bad." His message is, "hey, God is that good and merciful." Sin is real and it is real bad. God's mercy and forgiveness is also real. Real good. Real powerful. Real.

When we deny sin is real we also miss out on forgiveness. We have no cause for gratitude because we do not feel any sense of being given anything. We do not know our debt is great, so we underestimate the blessing we have received. We are like people at table in an expensive restaurant (one without prices on the menu--the sort I never go to). We just make our selections oblivious to what the tab is. And because someone else pays for it we have no sense of gratitude for what it costs (assuming it is in line with our usual fare). The lack of insight produces a lack of appreciation. Without appreciation for all we have received (by grace) we assume a certain sense of entitlement. Thinking we get what we deserve (or possibly less than we deserve) we have a tendency toward resentment (not gratitude). The end result is we love little and are stingy with our kindness. And blind the entire time....

Some people would do you "the kindness" of saying that sin is not a big deal. They will tell you God is not troubled with your sin, that God looks elsewhere. They tell you not to grovel and not to worry. Such people are doing you a great cruelty. Sin awareness coupled with an awareness of God's gracious mercy provides you a venue to receive forgiveness. Having been forgiven, you can repent, and be truly sorry for your many sins. Sorry and mourning, you can cling to the Savior's feet and know His compassion. His love runs even deeper than your sin, and if you plumb the depths of your sin you will encounter remarkable love. Having been reconciled you will have cause to celebrate. And the joy produces love. And the gratitude produces love. And the reality of mercy produces love. And that love is a fruit of God's Holy Spirit, a gift to be shared with everyone.

In the end, God is honest and true. If you are unable to see your sins, I assure you in the last day He will make it clear. The "bill" for the meal will come do and you may be shocked to learn that what you thought ran $35 is actually many, many times that amount. As you fish in your pocket for the moeny to cover that expense you will learn that the only resources you have to cover your bill are sorroe, repentance and the Blood of the Lamb. Then you will weap. Then you will rejoice. Then you will know love. Why put it off until then?

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