Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Shriven Woman

Tonight I'll be preaching on the Gospel from St. Luke 7, so I'll muse about it a bit in print. This woman kisses Jesus' feet and washes them with her hair, because she loves Him. She loves Him because she was forgiven much, as He says. So the false religion of this Pharisee is exposed. See, he had invited Jesus to dine with Him, no doubt because Jesus' high esteem among the people would likely help the Pharisee's own esteem with them. So it is with many who call themselves Christian yet know nothing of associating with sinners, to say nothing of repenting themselves. The Pharisee's indignance likely showed on His face, for when we are told that Jesus gave answer to what he was saying only within himself, we need not suppose that our Lord was drawing on His omniscience to know it; it was surely evident. There's a wonderful renaissance painting of this scene -- it might be a Rembrandt -- which shows the pomposity of the rich Pharisees decked out anachronistic nineteenth-century attire, while this poor ragged woman crawls up to Jesus' feet in their midst, making all the dinner guests uncomfortable. How little she has regard for appearances, thinking only of the overwhelming fact that she is in the presence of her Master; but how much they regard appearances, thinking so much of them that they miss the wonder of this occasion: their God is visiting them here, but they are too busy being indignant to notice.

Let all beware of false piety, and of keeping up appearances for their own sake. And let us follow the example of this public sinner, this harlot. She is unquestionably Mary of Bethany, as we are told in St. John 11 where this occasion is connected to Jesus' visit to her home. And when Jesus on another occasion visited Mary and Martha, it was Mary who sat attentively at Jesus' feet. This is not because she wanted to come off as pious, but just the opposite. She was utterly taken with Him, absorbed with Him, and her cup overflowed.

So must we all learn to be. Repent of false piety, and find your place on your knees before Jesus' feet. Wash them with your tears and wipe them with your hair; place yourself meekly beneath Him. For He forgives sins, another thing the Pharisees could not abide.

Become like Mary, then: close out the world and its Pharisaical masks. See only Jesus before you, and be overwhelmed: your God is He, claiming you, shriven sinner, for Himself, and forgiving all your sins.

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