Homily: June 12, 2016

June 12, 2016, YEAR C; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar  

In our gospel reading today,

we are at a dinner thrown by a Pharisee,

whose guests are likely as prominent in the community as he is.

 

At the center of this meal is Jesus,

the young prophet about whom everyone is talking.

 

Expectations, no doubt, are high.

This is more than simply a dinner;

it is, in a sense, a salon,

a gathering of the respected and respectable

to discuss important matters.

 

Into this gathering comes this woman.

Except she doesn’t just come into the gathering.

She interrupts it.

First by her mere presence.

She is, after all, a sinner.

 

We don’t know the precise nature of her sin.

But its obvious everyone else there does!

Her sin must’ve been public

and it must’ve been monumental.

 

Then to make matters worse,

she lavishes attention upon Jesus, the guest of honor.

 

She stands behind him weeping,

and proceeds to clean his feet,

washing them with her tears,

drying them with her hair,

finally applying ointment she has brought.

 

How does she think she can get away with this?

What prompts such audacity?

 

Jesus, apparently, has no doubt about

what has prompted her display of extravagant hospitality and extreme devotion.

 

“Who do you think would be more grateful,” Jesus asks,

a man whose debt of five hundred denarii was cancelled or the one forgiven fifty?

 

Who the heck knows what a denarius is?

Just know that the first man is forgiven ten times the debt that the other is.

 

The obvious analogy is to the woman who has been bathing his feet with tears.

She apparently has been forgiven much, perhaps ten times what others have been forgiven.

This explains why she is devoting herself to Jesus,

weeping as she does.

 

She is overcome by gratitude,

the kind of gratitude which can be understood only

by someone who has been given everything.

 

But is forgiveness really everything?

Can it possibly be worth that much?

 

Consider this:

forgiveness at heart is the restoration of relationship.

It is releasing any claim on someone else for some past injury or offense.

 

That’s why the analogy to a debt works so well.

Forgiveness cancels relational debt and opens up the future.

Which is why it’s so important, so valuable.

 

But it’s also something more.

Forgiveness also gives us back ourselves.

 

After a while, being indebted, owing others,

knowing yourself first and foremost as a sinner –

these realities come to dominate and define us.

 

We become no more and no less than what we’ve done,

the mistakes we’ve made, the debt we owe.

 

When we are forgiven,

all of those limitations disappear.

 

We are restored, renewed, set free.

So, yes, forgiveness is everything.

 

After his exchange with Simon,

Jesus turns and addresses the woman directly,

saying “your sins are forgiven.”

 

I think we typically take such pronouncements

in a present-tense kind of way,

assuming that Jesus is offering forgiveness right in that moment,

as a response to the woman’s devotion

and, perhaps, supplication.

 

But in this case I don’t think that’s how it played out.

 

I think that Jesus had already met this woman,

already forgiven her sins,

and that she is now demonstrating her extreme gratitude,

unable to hold back,

unaware or uncaring of the surprise and stares

and even disapproval of everyone else.

 

Just to make sure she realizes that this new reality

that has broken her heart with its beauty is real,

Jesus says again,

“your sins are forgiven.”

 

Some things, you see,

are so good it’s hard to believe they’re true.

And so Jesus repeats the words of forgiveness

that they may sink deep into her broken and reborn heart.

 

She needed the assurance of forgives from another person.

 

It’s a great story, isn’t it?

And here’s the thing. It’s not over.

 

It happens again every time

We take an honest look at ourselves

And say to ourselves

“God forgives me.

I am forgiven.

I forgive myself”

 

That’s why we keep on confessing our sins

Weekly during the worship service.

 

It’s not because we aren’t yet forgiven-

It’s that the wonderful and ever present fact of God’s forgiveness

hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

 

Scripturally,

Its not really the clergy who forgives our sins

When we confess them-

We just proclaim the word of forgiveness.

 

It is God who does the forgiving.

But as we can see both from  King David’s life

And from this gospel story,

Forgiveness needs to be embodied,

Announced,

Expressed,

Demonstrated,

By someone human.

 

David has his prophet Nathan

Who both accused and then assured David

After he committed adultery with Bathesheba,

Got her pregnant,

Then had her husband killed.

 

The sinner woman and perhaps Simon the Pharisee had their in-the-flesh Jesus

Announcing forgiveness,

Exemplifying it,

Explaining it,

Illustrating it.

 

In both cases,

The presence of someone actually there-

On site-

Prompted the whole forgiveness experience.

 

Wherever there are people

There are hurt feelings,

Wrongs done,

Sometimes heinous crimes,

Like David’s adultery and assassination.

 

But just as surely

Wherever there is forgiveness

There is also someone human there

mediating,

Announcing

Exemplifying,

That forgiveness.

 

Who will do that for you?

Will it be a priest,

A family member?

You yourself even?

 

Who will make forgiveness a living reality for you?

All three work.

 

So we’ll be doing the confession and absolution as usual in a few minutes

But for now,

in memory of this audacious woman,

Her oil,     Her hair,

Her weeping,    Her forgiveness,

Her gratitude

repeat after me:

 

“God forgives me.

I am forgiven.

I forgive myself”

 

Amen.