Who is Jesus likely to offend the most?
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.38 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 people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[c] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “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—as her great love has shown. But whoever 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.”
In the 1st century, Judaism was not a state religion. In fact there were many traditional groups and new emerging sects coming through. The main ones were:
The Essenes – most well-known were the Jews of Qumran of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who were concerned for purity, they believed they alone possessed the truth.
The Pharisees – the most meticulous observers of the Torah law.
The Sadducees – No less pious than Pharisees but opponents of them.
The Revolutionaries – most famous of them was the Zealots who turned religious interpretations into a political agenda against the Roman Empire.
The largest of groups was the plain Jew – they observed the Sabbath, the holidays, the festivals, did pilgrimage to the temple, kept the food laws, the rituals, lived holy lives, followed the laws of Torah.
It was into this diverse but very religious society that Jesus was born, educated, worked and did ministry. As he grew up in this society he became aware of groups of people who were increasingly being marginalised, left behind and discarded because no one knew really what to do with them.
They were outcasts. This passage speaks of one of them. Here she comes, a woman, if that wasn’t bad enough, a woman of ill repute.
Surely Jesus will feel uncomfortable? Maybe he will dismiss her, ask her to leave this very special fellowship we are having. Perhaps Jesus will look to Simon for help. Surely he will not talk to her or interact with her. That would be shameful, sinful and wrong. Let’s see what happens. Let’s sit back with Simon and watch what Jesus says about this outcast.
Here comes Jesus and this is what he says and does and it isn’t easy reading:
- Outcasts are people. V44 “Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon.” He doesn’t look at Simon but at the woman. Jesus is forcing Simon to look at the woman, to see what he sees. But Simon doesn’t see a person, he sees an object, there are no kind words in his mind for this woman.
- Outcasts can become better lovers of God, v44f “you did not, she did” is repeated 3 times. Jesus was saying, “The brokenness of her life due to sin has brought about greater expression of love to me”
- To reach the outcast you have to tread on deep-seated protocol. The protocol that says you don’t speak to your enemy. The protocol that says you don’t speak to a woman. One Jewish rabbinical writing says “One should not talk with a woman on the street, not even with his own wife, and certainly not with somebody else’s wife, because of the gossip of men.” The protocol that says you don’t socialise with a sinner never mind one that is obviously a prostitute.
In this fast emerging culture, new outcasts are being born, new sinners, we are in a world which our grandparents would surely not recognise. Where there is a rise of sin there is a rise of offence. The desire for purity is as strong as it has ever been. It is so difficult to be pure with so many new sinners rising up. The same historical option is still there to be used. That of withdrawal from the sinner. To make them outcasts. To be set apart from such people. Conversing with them, never mind showing any sort of love or eating with them is likely to have you sentenced on social media. So the option is to stay away. Let the outcasts do what they do and we will do what we do.
The outcasts come together and do their outcast life.
The Church gathers together and does their life together.
The Church asks God that He change the outcasts so that they can join the Church and be in the family.
The outcasts have no intention of changing because if they did they would have to join the Church.
The Church continues to pursue Jesus. They search and cry out, ‘where are you Jesus?!’ They fast and pray, they preach and declare, ‘God is coming!’ But often He is not found. He is not in the songs we sing, the prayers we pray and the empty fasts.
I wonder where He is?