Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know it was you until someone pointed it out to you, or someone was telling a story and you began to wonder if they were telling it – hoping that you would get the point and that it was told for your benefit?
A traveler arrived at the airport, checked her bags and stopped to buy coffee and a bag of cookies that she would take with her on the flight. The dining area was crowded, but she found a table where there was another traveler reading his newspaper while drinking his coffee. He offered that she could join him. She began to read a book she had brought with while drinking her coffee. She reached into the bag of cookies on the table and enjoyed the cookie with her coffee as she read. The man also reached into the bag and took a cookie. She thought, “how rude.” He didn’t even ask if he could have one. She ate another, and so did he; she seethed inside to think that he would be so bold as to eat her cookies when she hadn’t even offered them to him. They both reached again for a cookie in the bag, but there was only one left, and he broke it into and offered her the other half. She was hot with fury! He finished and as he left, wished her a good flight. She was fuming as she boarded the plane and got her carryon in the overhead compartment and sat down to ready herself for take off. As she reached in her bag, her hand felt a bag – a bag with cookies, the cookies she had purchased with her coffee and had put in her bag to have on the flight. She had eaten his cookies, all the while angry that he would eat hers with no invitation or offer of hospitality. She was the sinner, the one who had taken what wasn’t hers, while he had even gone the extra mile to share the last portion with her.
It would seem that there is some of that going on with our lessons today. In our First Reading, Nathan has to tell David a story about a poor man’s lamb being slaughtered for the meal for the rich man’s guest in order for David to begin to have some sense of what he had done in having Uriah sent to the front lines where he would surely be killed so that David could seduce Uriah’s grieving widow and have her for his wife. David was the man! He had authority and the Lord had already given him much. He had wealth and power beyond all others. Yet he wanted something more, something someone else had. Tragically, his sin would cost him the life of the child they conceived. Not a picture we like to sit with for very long. But at least we read and hear that David recognizes his sin, claims it and is remorseful, repentant. He lives with God’s judgment and though his faith is shaken, he remains faithful to God as he reigns as king.
In our Gospel lesson, Simon the Pharisees invites the itinerant preacher to be his guest at his home for dinner. It more than like is a bit of “show and tell”, as Jesus has begun to get a reputation as he has traveled from town to town. It would be a well set table, Roman style, with couches for the guests to recline on as they ate, their sandals removed, servants to wait on them, and likely an outer area where folks from the community could come in and make requests. One such person enters – a “woman in the city”, we are told. Simon is irritated – in one sense by the behavior of the woman, and in another sense, by Jesus’ response to her. Surely if he is this prophet others are talking about, he must know just “what kind of woman she is”! Jesus tells the story of two debtors, and as Simon gives his response, Jesus carries it to another level. Not only has Jesus pointed out that this woman has sought forgiveness and recognizes Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, Simon has not even offered the most common of gestures of hospitality, to not offer water for bathing a traveler’s feet, no kiss of peace to a guest who has been invited in, no anointing oil that would make one smell better after having traveled dusty roads. Simon supposed that his wealth, his rank, his authority as a Pharisee placed him in a position where he didn’t need anything or anyone – he was the man! Yet it is the sinful one, the one with no name, who was marked by her past that comes humbly seeking to be restored, offers hospitality with gestures of gratitude. It is this one who leaves with the peace of Christ. Her faith in this one who was sent to forgive, heal, and restore to newness of life – this faith in this one has saved her. Simon was so convinced in his own self-righteousness that he felt no need for forgiveness – nor did he have sincere love for others in need of such redeeming.
“Who is this who even forgives sins?” asks those who are at the table with him. Who is this man? Jesus indeed was not a prophet, as Simon had supposed. Jesus is something more – he is the Messiah – the one sent to save sinners. He eats with sinners and outcasts; he touches the untouchable; he loves the unlovable. There is a sense here that Simon and his wealthy guests have no sense of being in need of a Messiah, a Savior. They’re fine just as they are – in fact, they are more fine than those people “out there,” the ones who don’t fit their mold or status or station in life.
How do we receive Jesus? Do we want to make Jesus our buddy, have him sit beside us as if we’re on equal footing? Or do we come seeking mercy, humbling ourselves, reaching out with gratitude for what he has already done for us, and seeking once more to be forgiven as we know we fall short of the mark? We recognize that even with our best efforts there are those things we have failed to do that we should have done, or seen ourselves a bit more righteous than others. Are we the ones who are caught with our hand in someone else’s bag of cookies, as if they were our own? Do we carry the marks of our past as if tattooed with all the ways we have not shown love and mercy towards others?
The Good News is that we are marked – we are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit in our baptism. As repentant and forgiven people, we are offered the peace of Christ so that we can be reconciled with Christ and with each other. We too are offered the peace of Christ as we are forgiven and we can go out as restored, forgiven people. Our faith has saved us by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Grace, mercy, peace, and the love of God through our Lord Jesus Christ has made us new. It is not the law that justifies us. It is our belief and faith in Jesus Christ that has made it possible for us to be made new and whole. Thanks be to God! Amen
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15